Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered and mastered by Sam Patlove
The polished, steel building on the cover of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's debut full-length album looks like a great place to hide stuff and people. It looks like a place where you'd go to woodshed, where you could just sever yourself off from the rest of the world and create your own bubbly place, insulated from everything that you didn't want to let in. The other day, I was watch shopping, looking to get a great, old-school looking Casio, with the tiny buttons and nothing at all fancy on it, just something that could keep time when I was or wasn't out running. The more time I spend looking at the photograph of this Frank Gehry-looking structure - maybe it is a Gehry or a poor man's Gehry - the more I believe that all of the Casio watches of the kind I wanted are housed inside that structure, possibly under glass, but definitely hoarded. It's fun imagining this building - out there in what looks to be a desolate stretch of land, at the time of the photo snapping, in the middle of a winter or just emerging from one - as the place where Unknown Mortal Orchestra mastermind Ruban Nielson and his crack squad of bizzaro, idiosyncratic popsmiths live and sleep. It's where they walk about wearing aluminum foil helmets and they believe all kinds of conspiracy theories. The out-sized antenna and satellite dish on the roof of the building beam in all of the essential transmissions they need from their home planet, a place where all songs are strange to the touch and sight, but ultimately filled with milk, honey, caramel and nougat. You see a strange place like this on the cover of an album, without getting any other back-story, just the accompanying music and you simply must infer some things. What we infer is that Nielson feels some kind of allegiance to the idea of a building like this - some seclusion, to the impossibility of being high on a mountainside, after the wolves had lost his scent, to being seen as something otherworldly maybe - and that he writes the way he feels. If feels as if there's a copious amount of getaway involved with the songs on the band's self-titled record, an album that covers all kinds of ground, from contemporary indie rock to that of the Athens, Georgia-based, once proud and thriving Elephant Six Recording Collective, to Pavement and obscure hints of 1990s grunge of the "120 Minutes" ilk. It rings with the peculiarities of a writer who has dipped his brain, ears and eyes into a myriad of different things in his lifetime and he's got no clear-cut direction, instead choosing to wade through it all to cook up this new variety of his mind's wanderings.