On May 26th, Unknown Mortal Orchestra will release Multi-Love, their third album. Led by New Zealand ex-pat/singer Ruban Nielson, the trio is now based out of Portland. Their first two records hinted at a fondness for 80s funk, but the band couldn’t escape the trappings of contemporary indie rock– reverb drenched guitars and lo-fi production. This is not a slight, but a testament to how impressive their transformation is on Multi-Love, which sees the trio fully embracing their love for boogie, funk, and R&B.
The album opens with the title track “Multi-Love”, a song centered around an ascending plunky riff played on an electric piano. It shifts abruptly to the typical UMO drum beat, laid-back, funky, and in the pocket. At his best, drummer Riley Geare’s playing conjures The Meters’ Joseph Modeliste, with a tip of the hat to Zigaboo on nearly every drum fill. Without question, Modeliste is the group’s strongest musician and the most vital to the UMO sound. Lyrically speaking, there are nods to the hyper-sexualized funk of the 80’s – think Kool And The Gang, or Prince: “Multi-Love got me on my knee, we were one, then become three”. The Prince worship comes to a head on “Ur Life One Night”. Like a lost track from Purple Rain (right down to the millennial misspelling), “Ur Life” embraces the electro-boogie that The Revolution ushered into the mainstream on their 1984 album. The song is spacious, unsettling, and just as catchy as anything The Purple One recorded in his prime.
Multi-Love is rooted in funk, but there are many moments where UMO veer from the path. Take “Keep Checking My Phone”, which begins with a trumpet/guitar hook before jumping to a “Sympthy For The Devil”-esque percussive drum loop. The essence of the song is still electro/boogie, but it’s more in line with the funk that existed as an after-effect (think Hot Stuff, not Beggars Banquet). Like their former tourmates Foxygen, UMO lift pieces from the best moments of their favourite songs from the past, reconditioning them into ideas that feel exciting and new.
On Multi-Love, UMO have made a full metamorphosis into an entirely different universe, coming out with their greatest set of songs to date.