Emerging from rampant hedonism and desperate isolation is ‘II’, the new album from Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Behind the cartoonish colour of this collection of soulful, mind-addled psychedelia, lurks the fact that its author, Ruban Nielson, came close to never making it at all. “There were times when I felt that if I continued as I was that I would die, or some other bad thing would happen,” he admits, referring to the months following the release of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s eponymous, self-recorded debut in June 2011, and a punishing, debauched touring schedule that would have a lasting affect on the 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.
Released after he swapped New Zealand for Portland and isolated himself from friends and family, Nielson’s first album as Unknown Mortal Orchestra fused Barrett and Hendrix to RZA and The Beatles. Coming midway through a journey that took him from cryptic, anonymous bedroom project borne of disillusionment and private amusement, to leader of a hard-touring, hard-living band; it marked his return to music after the messy break-up of Flying Nun punks The Mint Chicks, the band he started at home with brother Kody 10 years earlier. Now, building on the break-beat, junk-shop charm Nielson soon came to be renowned for, ‘II’ signals the solidification of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s position as an infinitely intriguing, brave psychedelic band; unafraid to dig deeper and hit harder than the rest to lock into their intoxicating, opiate groove and bring rock’n’roll’s exaggerated myths to life. Time on the road may have eaten away at Nielson both physically and mentally, but, ultimately, it conceived an album that builds thrillingly on the jagged melodies, choppy percussion and meandering guitars on his debut. ‘II’ was recorded nocturnally (Nielson played everything but some of the drums himself) in the converted basement of his family home in Milwaukee, Oregon – an upgrade on the yurt where he and his wife and young children first lived after moving to America. Focus, inspiration and dedication streamlined his vibrant imagination during the sessions and extra time spent on the songs (compared with his previous one-night-one-song approach) gives the instruments space to flick between woozy stumble and nimble canter, highlighting the emotional turmoil that led to the revelatory bleakness of the lyrics.
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