After two albums of Unknown Mortal Orchestra honing their signature sound, it was difficult to see how they'd be able to progress as a band while retaining their USP. However, on 'Multi-Love', their first record since 2013's 'II', they just about strike that balance.
At its core, 'Multi-Love' is still very clearly a UMO record, in that it's soul-inflected retro-psychedelia that sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin. However, there are clear signs of forward movement, and branching out: 'Can't Keep Checking My Phone' pulses with urgent Latin rhythms, there are slivers of electronica throughout – used to great effect on the title track, particularly – and frontman Ruban Nielson's father crops up on sporadic brass duties.
The lo-fi recording techniques and largely opaque lyrics mean Unknown Mortal Orchestra can be hard to fully warm to, as if they're purposely keeping something of themselves back in order to maintain some distance between them and the listener. That isn't to say they're not writing about real experiences; Nielson has been open about how both he and his wife fell in love with the same woman, who was living with the couple until recently.
It's with this knowledge that 'Multi-Love' fills the mind with even more questions. At first, the title track appears to be about the capacity to have love for both a romantic partner and your own children, but it's more likely to be about the perils of loving two women simultaneously.
'Multi-Love' undoubtedly reveals Unknown Mortal Orchestra's willingness to reinvent and innovate, yet it's still beset by some of the difficulties that have featured in their previous work. Maybe it's time for them to fully commit.
Words: Joe Rivers
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