Review Summary: Semi-Kiwi psych-pop connoisseurs hit a groove and never look back.
It’s not a comparison that bears too much sonic relevance but if Tame Impala are the current torchbearers of widely-appreciated psychedelia – wailing falsetto, a pedal board like a stamp collection, and production fireworks – Unknown Mortal Orchestra are their unglamorous equals; stubbornly unshowy but surprisingly talented, that rare breed that seem to pluck melodies out of thin air but leave you hard-pressed for a guitar solo. They made waves with their self-titled debut and its earworm of the century highlight, “Ffunny Ffrends”, only to follow that masterstroke of fuzz-soaked abandon with the impossibly catchy, Adult Swim commissioned “I’ll Come Back 4 U”. If you measured hooks in calories, these men were pushing morbid.
“So Good At Being In Trouble” might be the track that extends that run of soulful, measured brilliance, but unlike those two others, it sways and lingers rather than dazzles. Temperance most characterizes UMO’s songwriting and the sparse, r&b inspired chorus comes and goes to little fanfare apart from, perhaps, an unspoken testament to the idea that a strong melody goes a long way. That sort of calculated pop experimentalism runs through the spine of II
, unleashing moments like the Beatles-esque opener “From The Sun” (“If you need to / you can get away from the sun”, Ruben Nielson sings, having heeded St. George’s tale of its coming), while continuing to push on in their quest for murky, psychedelic treasure with tracks like the rollicking guitar-jam “No Need For A Leader”.
It's a record truly adorned by its minimalism, and simplicity is what glues the shards of lo-fi crackle into largely subdued psych-pop accomplishments. As closer, “Secret Xtians”, strums gently towards the final fade out, it’s clear that what dynamism the band lost from their debut was replaced by typically sophomoric poise, seen in the kind of fearlessness that produced the 7-minute long “Monki”, a track that shimmers and croons but never allows itself a frill beyond necessity. It's interesting to see a band capable of so many twists settle so assuredly into a sound as comfortable and warm as much of II
and it's a better record for that relationship; the lack of urgency brings II
to a constant simmer, and sometimes that's all you need.