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Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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Artist: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Album: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Jun. 28, 2011

Has anyone coined the term filler band yet? If not, I’m taking credit for it right now, because it’s the only way to explain why Unknown Mortal Orchestra is worth writing about.

First encounter with Unknown Mortal Orchestra occurred in 2010 when “Ffunny Ffrends” came out as the lead single that would launch a thousand (OK, maybe a dozen) questions about who these guys were. The better question, though, is who cares? To clarify, the Orchestra is the brainchild of Ruban Nielson, a Portland-via-New Zealand resident originally of the criminally ignored, gleefully damaged Mint Chicks. This piece of information serves two purposes: first, to tell you to spend some times with the Chicks’ Screens, and second, to explain how the laziest of lazy terms, Kiwi-pop, got heaped on to this album.

Is there some resemblance to The Clean, or even Tall Dwarfs? Sure, in the same way that most indie bands with guitars have some Flying Nun DNA in there. To make a more dramatic connection than that, though, conflates generic quirkiness with actual good ideas. It’s to other filler bands that comparisons are necessary, and which also happened to be encapsulated almost entirely within “Ffunny Friends.” They are Sleigh Bells without the distortion, Free Energy without the fun, Jeff the Brotherhood without the Weezer, Dignan Porch without the psych. In essence, Unknown Mortal Orchestra is the most basic, easily digestible, pre-chewed pop archetype. With zero nutritional value.

Credit should be given where it’s due, primarily to Nielson’s taste. He obviously has an ear, and exercised it on his parents’ record collection often. Zombies bits wend their way into “Thought Ballune,” The Cramps make an unlikely appearance in “Nerve Damage!,” and elements of The Band stick up throughout. Those little chunks are worth grabbing onto, if only for the sake of their own recognizance. Because not much really happens with them. They appear as little more than repetition, or acknowledgement of greatness, the way a teenager learns to play guitar by perfecting “Smoke on the Water.” A good start, and maybe even a decent party trick, but what else is there?

In this case, not much at all. “How Can U Luv Me” is the one bright spot, but the trick here is that it’s largely an issue of perspective. For an album that lacks a pulse, any sign of life is something worth latching onto and riding the whole way through. But in the grander scheme of things? I don’t know. I can tell you this: it’s a struggle to find anything much to talk, or care about, with this band. And in this game, if your tree falls and no one cares, you’re in pretty deep shit.

By Evan Hanlon

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