Ever since they burst on the scene with blog-favourite ‘Ffunny FFriends’, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have wilfully proved themselves ready to wrong-foot all of us at each turn. Led by New Zealand’s Ruban Nielson, they followed up on that buzzy single with a fully-formed, self-titled debut in 2011 that proved the hype was well placed. Next, ‘II‘, saw them dabble with a mainstream sound while keeping their sound firmly rooted in their scuzzy origins, and 2015’s ‘Multi-Love’ was a glorious psychedelic romp through Prince-tinged pop. It seemed only natural for them to continue boogie-ing towards the dancefloor and build on ‘Multi-Love”s dancier elements.
On their fourth album, ‘Sex & Food’, you’ll be relieved to know that they’re thrown themselves into another bold new direction for a set of fuzzy, funky and fun set of songs that’ll be rattling around your head all summer long. Most notably, on the comforting ‘Honeybee’, Nielson croons a groovy ode to his daughter amid stellar production: “Careful like an orchid / love survives forever / age of paranoia / don’t be such a modern stranger / oh angel.” It may well be the best song they’ve ever done – crafting a tune that’s tender in the right places and a mightily fun summer jam in all the others.
While that song is as soothing a pair of fresh sheets, ‘Sex & Food’ features some of their trickiest and devilishly heavy work to date elsewhere. ‘Major League Chemicals’ squeals and squirms like Jimi Hendrix conquering Woodstock, and ‘American Guilt’ is a riff-heavy delight, as highly charged as anything by T-Rex or Black Sabbath. ‘Chronos Feasts On His Children’, meanwhile, conjures up images as grizzly as Francisco Goya’s 19th century painting of the ancient figure doing just that – “Chronos feasts on his children / like turning mango flesh.” This album is as lurid and unmissable as the title suggests.
‘Sex & Food’ comes with a handful of missteps, like the forgettable ‘Not In Love Were Just High’ and ‘This Doomsday’ in the album’s final third. But by and large, it sees UMO pushing their sound impressively, bending the rule book as crudely as they can before the spine breaks.