Reissued 11/17/2023, Originally released 2013
Unknown Mortal Orchestra came to life in basements and bedrooms, the musical vision of Portlander-via-New Zealand Ruban Nielson that fused guitar-god riffs, choppy percussion, soul and funk. II, the sophomore album from UMO, emerged in an era rampant hedonism and isolationism and became the blueprint for everything Nielson has become renowned for. It was, and is, the solidification of Unknown Mortal Orchestra as an endlessly intriguing, brave and addictive band. Ten years on, it’s back with an expanded edition. Written during a punishing, debauched touring schedule during which Nielson feared for both his sanity and health, II illustrates the emotional turmoil of life on the road, painting surrealist, cartoonish portraits of loneliness, love and despair. These conflicting themes are evident immediately; on the album’s sleeve is an unnerving image of Janet Farrar, the famous British witch, Wiccan, author and teacher of witchcraft. The chilling refrain of opener “Into The Sun” sees Nielson deliver the line “Isolation can put a gun in your hand,” softly, his words starkly intelligible above a warm, slow-burning melody that quickly brands itself onto your brain. His playful imagery (“I’m so lonely I’ve gotta eat my popcorn all alone”) mirrors the melody, before a solo that borders on psychotropic ends II‘s introduction. In celebration of the album’s 10th anniversary Nielson’s complete collection from the II era is finally available in one compilation, and features the five acoustic tracks from the Blue EP as well as two additional B-sides. Unknown Mortal Orchestra was once Nielson’s closeted concern. With an album that uses his singular musical imagination and extraordinary talent to parade his emotions with unyielding honesty, it is now a fully realized band operating at the peak of its powers ten years on.