When ‘Ffunny Ffrends’, the opening track of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s debut, starts off, the first thing anyone will notice will not be its wandering guitar leads or vocal hooks, it’ll be the audio quality (or lack thereof). It’s the sound of a 10th generation cassette that’s been decaying in an attic for 20 years. It takes tape hiss and distortion to such high degrees as to make it seem bluntly intentional, even if there’s the small chance it isn’t. As an M.O., its one they timeshare with all the chillwavers and ‘hypnagogic pop’ artists, eccentric retro-minded nostalgia merchants like Neon Indian or Ariel Pink. All of the buzz surrounding the album seems to have reached the consensus that it sounds like a “lost album”, an artefact of years gone by. If only it was that simple.
While the quality is a constant, the sounds are scattershot with little carrying from track to track. ‘Nerve Damage’ has a punk stomp and mock malevolent vocals that gives it an almost B-movie feel, made even odder by it being bookended by two light guitar pieces. Funk yields a surprising influence on the album, with ‘How Can You Love Me’ and ‘Thought Ballune’ sounding like pop songs by early Gang Of Four. ‘Little Blu House’ is a gentle take on shoegaze, while ‘Boy Witch’ quite happily jumps between sound collage intro, blues rock riffing and psychedelic pop.
The songs in and of themselves are fairly solid, all of them showcasing a reasonable knack for a crafting a vintage-sounding pop tune. It’s the near stream of consciousness flitting from one idea to the next that makes it difficult to take as a cohesive, concrete idea. Maybe that’s the point, to comment on the way we listen to the music of the past in how it sounds like less like a lost album than a lost compilation. Even if that is the case, we’d probably all be best to leave the conceptual weight just take it as an enjoyable blast of lo-fi rock.