Unknown Mortal Orchestra “V” Album Review


Unknown Mortal Orchestra

  • Genre: Alternative
  • Date: 17 Mar, 2023
  • Content: Not-explicit
  • Track(s): 14
  • ℗ 2023 Jagjaguwar

Unknown Mortal Orchestra &Quot;V&Quot; Album Review, Yours Truly, Reviews, November 30, 2023

The meticulous indie rock mastermind Ruban Nielson was raised by musicians. He grew up watching his parents perform at resorts all across the Pacific but also being aware of the grotesqueness of the travel and tourism industry and appreciating the delights of island life, particularly its music. V, primarily recorded in Hilo, Hawaii, serves as Nielson’s return to his past and the exquisite sonics and breezy sadness of a childhood spent in paradise after the joyful vulnerability of 2015’s Multi-Love and 2018’s Sex & Food. As a result, there are some of possibly Nielson’s best-ever large, juicy melodies that burst with bittersweet juice. But, so much of this double record is obscured by his haze.

The album’s influences were West Coast AOR, classic songs, oddball pop, and Hawaiian Hapa-haole music. Its creation involved Hilo, Hawaii, and Palm Springs, California. It features performances by Ruban Nielson, the group’s frontman, and his brother Kody. Furthermore, it features Chris Nielson, their father, who plays the flute and saxophone, and Jacob Portrait, also a  member of the famous Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Album Art

Unknown Mortal Orchestra &Quot;V&Quot; Album Review, Yours Truly, Reviews, November 30, 2023

The album art sees a daring-but-beautiful photograph that captures a young lad putting his hand forward and towards the open mouth of an animal, probably a Tiger or Cheetah, and is unafraid. Nielson and the band can adequately explain the story behind this choice for “V,” but it would hint at themes of Faith, Resilience, Strong-will, Courage, and Belief. It is also probably not a coincidence that the spots on the animal and the clothing the young lad is wearing are similar colors, which again may hint at a mirrored reflection of strength.

Tracks And Features

Nielson frequently has a fantastic idea on V—the beautifully crafted melody and amusingly idiotic lyrics of the 9-to-5 jam “Weekend Run”—only to give up or pursue it further. “The Widow” begins with a jagged bossa nova that offers countless possibilities, but the instrumental song doesn’t seem to know what to do with them and settles for a dull verse-chorus-verse structure, calling for a vocal track. It almost sounds as though “Guilty Pleasures” is being played on a turntable with an unbalanced tonearm because of the intricate melody and the graceful way it resolves into a somber chorus. Wishing that the person who produced “Ffunny Ffrends” would clean up his new songs seems weird, or at the very least very un-punk, yet the veneer of authenticity the production is supposed to convey is waning.

The awareness of how fantastic V could have been if Nielsen had shortened the tracklist and given the other songs the exposure they merit makes it so aggravating. “Meshuggah” contrasts a slurping bassline against a bit of late-night tuxedo funk that lightly recalls Sam Sparro’s “Black and Gold.” At the same time, Nielson rips a sticky, probing guitar solo through the midst of “The Garden,” a mid-’80s Don Henley parody that cooly changes to absorb the outburst. The hapa-haole ballad “I Killed Captain Cook” skillfully recounts the tale of the colonialist’s tragic demise at Kealakekua Bay. It features intricate and exquisite strumming that is flecked with foam and gently swings. Nielson’s vocals are breathtaking; they are rich in brass and waver like a muted trumpet. To be reminded of how excellent of a voice he has is shocking.

In “That Life,” his strengths are much more apparent. In the song’s lyrics, he is depicted as outside of the action, standing by a resort pool and watching visitors enjoy cocktails while jaguars wait nearby. The subsequent explosion is just around the corner. But things are calm for the remainder of the song. The guitar, which alternates between upbeat and melancholy at various points while occasionally holding simultaneously and regularly spilling beyond the meter like gin over the glass of a person trying to bring three drinks back to the cabana, makes it all work. Even though “That Life” is only a sliver of something—barely even a moment—it is full of unsaid pain. It ranks among Nielson’s very best compositions.

The second half of “V” is softer, with mellow ballads like “Layla” and “Nadja” encouraging the listener to reflect with Nielson as “V” develops across no less than four instrumentals. By the time it’s done, this has the air of a magnum opus—relentlessly, it’s ambitious and indulgent just enough. The notion that UMO might compete with Bruno Mars if Nielson cleaned up the production has persisted throughout Nielson’s career, but that would be a terrible shame. Nielson is nevertheless successful despite the chaos.


1The Garden6:20
2Guilty Pleasures3:28
4The Widow5:10
5In the Rear View4:04
6That Life3:35
8Shin Ramyun4:49
9Weekend Run4:47
10The Beach3:17
13I Killed Captain Cook3:28

Album Summary

Nielson has an uncanny knack for melody, and many of these songs have the odd habit of getting more intriguing as the record goes on. The music can infiltrate your walls like dampness does without your knowledge. This means V is frequently more moving as a recollection than a present encounter. While this idea fits in with the album’s central theme of nostalgia, it also suggests that V’s songs would have benefited from having a bit of presence. Whether on purpose or not, Nielson’s trademark haze gives the album an air of self-consciousness and blurriness, as if he doesn’t want to associate himself with the glossy AM gold too closely sounds that bands like the War on Drugs and Tame Impala have embraced more outwardly—and from which these songs so obviously borrow. Put through that obfuscatory filter, and V might come out as aloof and insular without the joy of being sly, lacking the vigor and pop of UMO’s earlier work. But, on the other hand, there is just enough of the world Nielson is spinning here to whet your appetite for a more in-depth experience.


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