Review Summary: Lo-fi psychedelic meets groovy indie-rock
Take a look at that album cover. There's certainly a retro vibe going on with the cross-processed shade of pink lining. The silver looking structure appears as if it could be giant, or relatively small considering its distance from the trees, and compared to its setting it's unnaturally out of place. There's a surreal quality to it though, the fact being that a messy hunk of modern architecture is placed in such a dull landscape, giving it a kind of bizarre pleasure. This cover can explain the music heard on Unknown Mortal Orchestra's debut quite nicely, being the sounds of lo-fi drenched psychedelia that feels both surreal and unconventional within its retro incased frame.
There's an overwhelming emphasis of 60s influenced rock throughout the album, but it's always carried by its roots of smoggy indie rock. "Bicycle" and "Jello and the Juggernauts" both feature fuzzy guitar plucks that are spaced out by subtle reverb pad, with the latter acting as more of a slow-jam of suspenseful chords, ultimately hinting comparisons to early psych-rock. "FFunny FFriends" and "Little Blu House" break the percussive mold on the album, promoting hip-hop-esque drum kits that are saturated in the album's constant lo-fi sound. The most distant sounding track here features the satirically absurd vocals of "Nerve Damage!" which wouldn't sound out of place on an early Ariel Pink record.
The second half of the album grooves on deep bass funk through tighter arrangements. The most coherent funk is heard on the wobbly low-end of "Strangers Are Strange", suited well with faint harmonies. While the lite-funk continues on "How Can You Luv Me", it's pounded by an effected drum kit and vocal croons that flirt with soul. To top it off, closer "Boy Witch" ripples in a soaked lo-fi buzz, retrospecting the sounds of old indoor malls and bike rides through the neighborhood.
The most important element to Unknown Mortal Orchestra is its pacing. The first couple of tracks are the longest, displaying a heavy influence in early psych-rock, but they give themselves time to play out with little stints of subtle improvisation. This sound turns for a tighter, more groove emphasized lo-fi with shorter track lengths. While there is a persistent sound throughout, it's the way that sound unfolds throughout the album that makes for a completely amusing listen from start to finish, and grants Unknown Mortal Orchestra high replay value when all is said and done.