Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Multi-Love is frontman and mastermind Ruban Nielson’s open invitation to a party. What’s more: it’s a party D’Angelo, Ariel Pink, Prince and Tame Impala would all be comfortable attending. Nielson has long been praised for his beats by hip-hop artists, but the surrounding guitar rock always kept his previous efforts grounded in the realm of psychedelic indie rock. But if you can get through this album without your head or body moving in some rhythmic fashion, it’s time to think about loosening up. Nielson sure has.
The first two records were a chemical confection sweet to the taste and nourishing to the mind. Multi-Love doesn’t alter anything about the ingredients of the formula used so far, but it does add to them. Nielson has discovered adding the ingredient of “soul” makes his calculations not just interesting but fun. He’s gone Walter White on us all: this is music of a crisper, more exciting variety than we’re used to from his band.
Take the tinkering keyboard at the start of the opening title track. It’s a hooky riff whose style is familiar at once to even the most casual of the band’s fans. If written out in musical notation, it’d be dancing up and down the staff in the same way one of their earlier singles like “Ffunny Ffrends” did. But there’s just a little more life to it, a little more spring in its step, and it’s this bounciness which ends up characterizing the record as a whole.
Nielson has finally started allowing himself to accept the praise of the likes of El-P and Questlove and is putting it to good use. His talent for orchestrating intricate percussion is pretty staggering, and the beats have never sounded better than they do here. They feed into the melodies, and the melodies feed into them. The polyrhythmic clicks and clacks on “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” or the chugging snare hits coupled with guitar and keyboard stabs on “Ur Life One Night” are just two examples speaking to the fact that this band is getting tighter and tighter even as their aesthetic is starting to get a little looser.
The title track describes a polyamorous love affair, and it’s sort of comical how well that sort of thing can stand in as a metaphor for the music itself. It takes more than two to tango apparently. There are horns, strings, keys, guitars, drums and more here, and they’re all in love with each other. Everything on here is reflexive and incapable of existing without the other parties involved. Each instrument is playing hooks anyone would die to have written themselves, but the sad fact of the matter is the only way they can exist to their full potential is with all their other partners cheering them on with equally envious melodies.
The musical biosphere is becoming more and more inclusive and innovative with each passing day. Still, rare is the album which can be shared among R&B, chillwave, indie rock, psychedelic and pop fans alike. Unknown Mortal Orchestra can now sit back and smile at the fact they’ve written an album which could just as easily be this year’s Channel Orange as it could be its Lonerism. But then again, what makes it even better is how it’s still so distinctively UMO’s that it really can only be 2015’s Multi-Love.