The Kiwi psych dabbler builds a vibrant carnival of electronics and invention on funky third LP
While touring 2013’s ‘II’, Ruban Nielson nearly threw up in his favourite Japanese restaurant. “I was in Uchiko in Austin and I felt so sick I couldn’t stand up,” he told NME in January. The 34-year-old mentions that same sushi joint in the first verse of ‘Multi-Love’, the funky, drums-driven opener of his third album. “She wants to bury me in Austin under Uchiko”, he sings, over dancing piano and breakbeats. It’s his poppiest, most bombastic song yet and the restaurant is one of few links to his past work. Here, Nielson strides away from the woozy Beefheart-indebted psychedelia of ‘II’ and its self-titled 2011 predecessor, and vividly expands every single aspect of the UMO sound.
It begins with four joyous examples of the step up the New Zealander – who has lived in Portland, Oregon since 2007 – has made. After ‘Multi-Love’ comes ‘Like Acid Rain’, a two-minute carnival of thick drums (played by Kody, Nielson’s brother and former bandmate in punk group The Mint Chicks), prodding bass and guitar pitched as high as the “La, la, la, la, yeah!” chorus. ‘Ur Life One Night’ has a similar spring in its step, with chopped vocals and a guitar solo made all the more dizzying by the synth jarring underneath. Most of the keys on the album come from vintage synthesizers Nielson reconfigured in his basement-studio. ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ – a jittery anti-smartphone rant that opens with parping trumpet and references South American drink chicha – deploys them extravagantly, ending the opening sequence with a springy mesh of beats and electronics.
The trumpet – played by Nielson’s father Chris, who worked with his sons in The Mint Chicks – adds gloss to ‘Extreme Wealth And Casual Cruelty’, a six-minute journey through strident guitar and urges to “abandon extreme wealth and casual cruelty.”
It forms a bridge from a lighthearted first half to a second portion that explores immigration and socially-conscious paranoia. ‘The World Is Crowded’ swaddles its titular warning in a ballad, but closer ‘Puzzles’ is harsher. Windows smash, guitars lurch from acoustic to Led Zep-loud and Nielson goes from singing “America, open up your door,” to screaming “I don’t want to solve your puzzles anymore.” After seven disorientating minutes, it fades with Nielson’s acoustic, a perversely simple conclusion to a dense, detailed and wildly engrossing album.