The psychedelic brilliance of Unknown Mortal Orchestra came to Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday eve for the first of a two-night stand in support of their newly released fourth album Sex & Food. The band’s brainchild Ruban Nielson came out looking more than a bit dazed, or even like he just crawled out of bed, as though he was lounging out in the middle of a retro 1960’s mod living room set complete with white shag carpeting and a fully stocked bar under the keyboard stand. He did seem disoriented and a bit off in the beginning of the show, but after a few songs, he started cooking with some of the prime embryonic juices he’s known for, and it all proved to be a crucial showcase of the power of experimentation and individuality.
The show opened with another guy who looked like he just dragged himself out of slumber to play, but British songwriter and producer Kyle Molleson, better known as Makeness, did in the end, manage to create a darkly jarring electronic rock fusion brew that sounded like an adrenaline shot straight to the heart during a killer rave. Just when you get lulled away into a snooze of one of his layered ambient soundscapes, he’ll crush you with a killer guitar-riffing rock groove or thumping dance beat. He just released his first full length album Loud Patterns, and after my first listen, I must admit he has a very playful way of experimenting with pop airs and melodic electronic tones while even pushing into some intense industrial and techno realms. I prefer his more unstable and distorted experimentations, but I can now see that why he does have a very wide appeal in the club.
I first caught Unknown Mortal Orchestra at a CMJ showcase at Brooklyn Bowl way back in 2012, and I was bowled over by how uniquely groovy and catchy these guys were. By all measures, their sound should have come off as uneven and hard to follow, but somehow they made these extremely awkward and off-time grooves work it like a runway model, and made my booty shake like a Polaroid picture. Since then of course, they have been enveloped into the whole psych-rock or garage-psych monster of a genre craze, but they still prove to stand out from the crowd with an absurdly mellowing independence; a totally unique take on every song they play, and never even playing their better known tracks the same way twice on stage. A great example was the first song of the night “Ffunny Ffrends,” which is probably still their best known song, as well their first recording where they even got their original name back in 2010. Yet, they totally mixed it up from its popular original form that always made me envision bouncing around with a horde of rabbits on a bunch of molly, and slowed it way down, and even made the track far more about tender harmonies, and he then successfully threw off the expectations and beliefs of the crowd first song in and Ruban probably felt more free to roam where he wanted unhindered.
I found “Necessary Evil” three songs in to be just about the killer highlight of the whole night with its flawless and fuzzy guitar solo drawn-out to absolute perfection, but there was also something slightly more awesome about the beat to it, as well. Ruban’s brother Kody is now the full-time drummer for the band, playing again with his bro for the first time since their early 2000’s band The Mint Chicks broke up, but some eight years later, the Nielson brothers are officially back together, and along with longtime bassist Jacob Portrait, they definitely create a unique beat. They had a bit more of a volatile relationship back in the day, a bit like Oasis’ Gallagher waring sibling strife, but it was all super chill this night at least, and it appears that all those crazy and tense childhood years are actually behind them now.
The set dragged a bit half way through, and some songs got a bit too jammed out for my taste, but I could always at least see where they were going. Things got heated again when Ruban got swept way into the groove and leapt into the crowd three-quarters of the way through the show during the grandiose song “American Guilt.” Probably their biggest hit “Multilove” that closed the night (before the lengthy encore) melded well with the darker tones of their new album, and that seemed to be the purpose, making all of the many sides of this wild band really meld together. I’m glad that Ruban Nielson is getting cooking with hot sauce again, and I’m sure there will be lots more to come from his glorious band.
Article: Dean Keim