Unknown Mortal Orchestra Steers Emotion Through Art At Brooklyn Steel THOUGHTS+PHOTOS: UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA @ BROOKLYN STEEL 4/25/18
BROOKLYN, NY- Unknown Mortal Orchestra transformed the lofty stage at Brooklyn Steel into an atmospheric, Urban Outfitters-esque living room on Wednesday night, complete with succulents stacked on shelves, plush fur rugs, a record player, and what appeared to be a tray of milk mimicking the rest of the “whited-out” setup. The cozy scene seemed fitting for the familiar first track of the night, a 2010 hit called “Ffunny Ffrends” off the group’s self titled debut album. Frontman and songwriter Ruban Nielson revealed in an interview with Under the Radar that the song was recorded on a vintage dictaphone to give fans the feeling of visiting a different era.
Although the New Zealand based psychedelic band’s sound has shifted over the past eight years, the group has not abandoned its use of nostalgia on the their latest album “Sex & Food”, which channels the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Nirvana, and even early 2000s Black Keys. In fact, Nielson takes manipulation of memory to the next level in his fifth annual Christmas release “SB-05,” which serves as a precursor to Sex & Food. The twenty-seven minute long track contains traces of the same beats and melodies present on the full length album, catalyzing a sense of deja-vu in fans upon first listen a few months later.
Nielson’s knack for steering emotion through his art is apparent in live concert as well. After British songwriter and producer Makeness charmed the crowd with a brief performance of his ambient pop album Loud Patterns, UMO followed with a deliberate set list. The sequencing of his broad spectrum of sound was decisive, starting off with mellower, lo-fi tracks like “Swim and Sleep” and “From the Sun.” The emotive beat in “Ministry of Alienation” introduced Sex & Food and shifted the show’s tone into something a little more danceable. Nielson immediately followed up with the breezy “So Good at Being in Trouble,” spiking the energy level of the crowd with the band’s undoubtedly most popular song. He kept the pace up with electro-rock “Nerve Damage!”, gritty “Major League Chemicals,” and pure grunge “American Guilt.” To top off the performance, the group circled back to its funk roots with “Multi-love.”
UMO returned for an encore with the airy “Chronos Feasts on His Children.” The song sheds light on the darker side of the album as it references the Greek god Chronos, who ate his offspring. Delicate vocal delivery and dreamy guitar strums mask the track’s harrowing themes, which are marked throughout the majority of the otherwise ethereal sounding record. Sex & Food, named after two of life’s sweetest indulgences, seems to be either a guise of a title or an act of irony for such a brooding project.
My mood continuously shifted from zoned out to zeroed in throughout the set. UMO’s spacier songs had a spellbinding quality to them, whereas the invigorating disco tracks snapped me back into the moment. I was surprised when Nielson jumped into the audience during the finale after seeming almost unaware of its presence when he first stepped onstage. But I suppose I should have predicted a noteworthy ending considering his fascination with memory. I left the venue with UMO’s beats burned into my mind, and I’m probably driving my roommate crazy by inadvertently humming along even days later.
The tour will continue into November, hitting the West Coast, Canada, and Europe.