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Album Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘Sex & Food’

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When Unknown Mortal Orchestra first appeared with a standalone online single in 2010, the identity of its creator was unknown, and an air of mystery surrounded the song. It featured an uncanny, lo-fi voice singing strange words over a psychedelic guitar riff, and a weird title, “Ffunny Ffriends.” Since then, they’ve released four critically-successful records, toured the world multiple times, and achieved indie hits with songs like “Multi-Love” and “So Good at Being in Trouble.” Yet throughout their growth in popularity and the development of their musical style, a feeling of mystery remains present in their music, permeating their newest album, Sex & Food, which was released on April 6.

Perhaps the mystery comes from the distortion and layering frequently applied to the voice of lead singer and songwriter, Ruban Nielson. From song to song, his identity changes—at times, his voice resembles a transmission from a distant alien planet, sent to deliver an enigmatic message. The album’s lyrics contain such enigmas as “Awoke with long fingernails / In the internet of love.”

Distortion is not limited to the vocals. Nielson’s guitar reverbs, floats, scratches, and sings, depending on the song. Nielson has always been a talented guitarist, and on songs like “The Internet of Love,” his virtuosity takes centre stage. On “Hunnybee,” a hypnotic riff repeats beneath every verse until the solo, when his toned-up electric guitar slashes through the peaceful background like a bolt of lighting.

Then, in the middle of the album, there is “Chronos Feasts on his Children,” a short, stripped-back number where the distortion recedes and we are left with Nielson’s raw voice and guitar. In an album so thick with processing, the song is a breath of fresh air, and the emotion delivered beneath the characteristically surreal lyrics is direct.

What makes Sex & Food a success, is that every song contains an emotion: A real feeling. After multiple listens, it is these emotions which rise to the surface, gasping, beneath the layers of alien guitar fuzz.

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