Album review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra releases new album “V”4 min read
by ELI KEITH
Unknown Mortal Orchestra released their fifth studio album, aptly titled “V,” on March 17. The New Zealand band amends for making fans wait five years between albums by making this one a double, featuring a full hour of flaring synths, electric guitars and Ruban Nielson’s characteristic, electronically fuzzy voice.
“V” is dominated by songs about connections to one’s surroundings, though it’s easy to miss messages in the lyrics for two reasons. The first reason is the listener’s attention, which is likely to be drawn to the guitar’s shreds or swimming pulses of the band’s instrumentals. The band clearly wants your attention on the music; their last album was entirely instrumental, and they are, after all, an orchestra. The second reason is the band’s resistance to cliché metaphors and gimme rhymes. Given the choppier delivery and the production filters over Nielson’s voice, listening to the instrumentals and taking in the lyrics almost have to be separate processes until listeners know the lyrics.
There is a purposeful energy to “V,” widespread as it is, which they described on their Instagram post six weeks before the release on Feb. 2. “I wanted to construct the solid jams to accompany you through your drive to work, your train ride, your chemical experiments, your panic attacks, hook-ups, break-ups, tailgate parties. ‘v’, y’know, like the romans wrote 5. ‘v’ for victory,” the post read. Given this myriad of offered listening environments, I’ve decided to tell you which songs fit where.
Drive to Work
These are the tracks that get you ready for the day, whether that means ready to conquer or ready to take grumpy comfort. “That Life” has been out as a single since last August and its chorus especially has proven suitable for justifying the troubles of life by naming them as things “you’re always gonna be about.” It’s one that comes to mind when you have to keep on keeping on.
“Weekend Run,” alternatively, exudes joy at the idea of those two days off for every five days of work. After “working every day of your life / Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, / watching all the days passing by / Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” there’s nothing like a great weekend, which is sometimes what we have to remind ourselves of when we’re driving to work on a Tuesday morning.
Train rides are long, right? Well, so are “The Garden” and “Drag.” In fact, they’re both six minutes and serve as the first and final tracks of the album, respectively. Their lyrics are minimal, and I think of them as songs that would play while the credits roll before and after the main course of the album. While “The Garden” is a bit of a hard jam, “Drag” is more meditative to finish off the project.
I’m no chemist, but “Keaukaha” comes to mind because it seems to offer so little that perhaps some sort of chemical change in the brain is what it would take to unlock any hidden secrets the song has. “Shin Ramyun” may be best for the true experimenting scientists out there, for it provides something nice to listen to in the background without any lyrics or complex developments in the music to distract from a primary activity.
“I Killed Captain Cook” is the go-to in this category because of its intriguing guitar picking; it’s both pleasant and unnerving, and it trails and flicks around in constant movement. It’s also a dark story, involving the literal killing of Captain Cook in a tale that’s both confusing and other-worldly, most of the definite emotion coming through in the sharp, chopping guitar picks. The song is raw and jumpy, but it tempers full chaos as it circles back to the start of each verse.
“Guilty Pleasures” is all about restriction and allowance in one’s lifestyle. It begins with a booming synth and is backed by pretty rapid snares, but it’s driven by perhaps the most compelling lyrics of the album. “Now I know that the nights are getting colder; guilty pleasures are holding us together,” sings Nielson, talking about how we all cope with the stresses of passing time. “Meshuggah,” “Layla” and “Widow” are all sweeter and smoother, filled with longing in their own ways, and are good backdrops for this kind of action, though definitely different. Maybe give these a listen before the big moment so you know what you’re getting into.
It feels clear that someone in the band has lost a partner named Nadja and was inspired to write a song about the crumbling of their relationship, given how vivid and direct the lyrics are. This is also unmistakably identifiable as a breakup song by the fact that it is the slowest song on the album; a sad croon coming from Nielson as every line of the chorus is intoned as though it’s a painful question. “In the Rear View” is just as doubtlessly about a goner relationship, but it’s distinctly more moved-on; the chorus asks the ex in question, “Do you ever look back at me / In the rearview?” but is drawn out as though both people are coasting down the highway towards better times.
“The Beach” is suggestive enough in its lyrics to create a strong case that this song is not just about going to the beach, but it doesn’t take that subliminal messaging far enough for us to take it as something beyond beach-bliss longing. And that “take me back to the beach” chorus is anthemically catchy, just in time for the warm weather!