February 21st, 2013 | Album reviews

Ben East

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

UMO’s debut arrived in 2011, fizzing like Elephant 6’s brattish sibling, yet pleasingly eschewing the requisite psych cornerstones. Imagine Funkadelic and the Move sharing smokes, beers and a 4-track over The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In short, it ruled. Sophomore, II, coulda-shoulda been where mainman Ruban Nielson emerged, blinking from the heart of the sun, holy tablet in hand, but actually it feels more like a series of missed opportunities. The palette has been extended now to include nods to Sabbath-sludge (“No Need For a Leader”), Kinks whimsy (“The Opposite of Afternoon”) and even Boards of Canada-esque hauntology (“Dawn”) but somewhere along the line, the exhilaration of the debut has been lost. That’s not to say that II is completely without merit. The snaking, elegiac guitar lines on “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” complement the pretty lyrics memorably, while “So Good at Being in Trouble” comes as close to perfecting a deep, soulful hum as a white boy from New Zealand has a right to. However, if ever a record suffered from second-album syndrome, this is it. Starved of real inspiration, it sounds to this deflated listener like Nielson knocked it out in an afternoon, high on Pitchfork praise and Pinot noir.

Dean Taylor