Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Sex & Food
"Amoral, but not evil, sick of fake democracies.
No one will fuck the ugly robot, Samael owns history"
You may not be completely familiar with the mythical Hebrew story of Samael, but these opening lines to "Ministry of Alienation" aptly summarize the thematic content of Sex & Food. Samael was not evil, but was both good and bad, with no compass to guide his ultimate destruction. The symmetry between Samael and the current state of society is undoubtedly band leader Ruban Nielson's overarching inspirational source for creating Sex & Food. There is zero shortage of frustration in Nielson and company's fourth studio album, starting and ending with a disgust and distrust in the inauthenticity of everything that surrounds us. With a plethora of musicians relentlessly creating music to vent their dissatisfaction of becoming addicted to their phones, Unknown Mortal Orchestra refreshingly takes that stance further.
For a lo-fi album, it is incredibly polished sounding. "Major League Chemicals" wastes no time representing the overall psychedelic journey we're about to embark on. Frantic and fast-paced drums dance around an economically complicated guitar riff. Fittingly, Nielson kicks us off talking about drug addiction. "She wanted to find a way to be someone else for a day, major league chemicals make her grave." It's some pretty heavy lyrical content under a heavily Jimi Hendrix influenced sound, but coming out of the gate guns blazing, will have you wanting more.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra finds a strong balance of composition by virtue of a clever track listing. At 43 minutes in length, it feels longer. The more straightforward, high-tempo, rock songs are always buffered by slower, more visceral tracks. "Ministry of Alienation", as mentioned, is a flag bearer tune for Nielson. The track is not a happy dimension UMO has invited us to join them on. The hypnotic and lathered with effects guitar sound has a defeated Nielson handing in his resignation, resigning from the culture that is becoming devoid of a moral compass and completely dependant on superficial technology.
Thankfully, there's "Hunnybee". Following up the despair of "Ministry of Alienation" is a string of relatively upbeat songs, and "Hunnybee" is easily the happiest track on the album. No coincidence, the song is about Nielson's daughter, and perhaps the hope he sees in her as the next generation is reflected in the positivity of the song. Next, "American Guilt" is the anchor of the album and is rightfully smack dab in the middle of Sex & Food. To this point, the album has flashes of succinct ideas, but is largely isolating in its execution. However, "American Guilt" is as no frills and bad-ass as it gets. Nielson told NME he wanted to make his version of "an actual rock song" and he delivered on his desire. "American Guilt" is complete and impressive while continuing to explore ideas of paranoia and the distrust of the government body.
There are several examples of a singular riff or idea being stretched beyond its means, but "The Internet of Love (That Way)" fearlessly stretches its idea successfully. Clocking in a shade under five minutes, one could argue it should be half the length. However, UMO commits correctly to the structure, creating an atmosphere and a vibe that is unbreakable and compelling. Unfortunately, where it succeeds, it fails on the next track, "Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays".
Sex & Food impressively takes the current collective of technophobic music to another level. While in places, the specific aesthetic of the album can be suffocating and haunting, it thrives with other more compact ideas. Whether it's with frenzied psychedelic rock achievements, or patiently building clean guitar riffs that throb and pulsate, Sex & Food is unique to itself in the currently cluttered and increasingly plain music buffet. Ultimately, you'll need to find how far you're willing to dive into its wide-ranging, lo-fi message to maximize the pleasure you can extract from its distinct art form.