Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Album Review

Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Jun/2011

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra


Label: Fat Possum Records / True Panther

Released: 21/06/2011

Rating: 80

Unknown Mortal Orchestra started out in 2010 as a doorway into the creative wilderness forNew Zealand native Ruban Neilson after the disbanding of the Flying Nun supported all-male quartet The Mint Chicks. The release of the self-titled debut calmly follows the upload of the opening track ‘Ffunny Ffrends’ to Bandcamp in late ’10 and a lengthy run of shows in the US and particularly the adopted home of Portland, Oregon. Insistent grooves underlying intricate and spirited vocals, coupled with static and sparse guitar fuzz are the force behind this coolly confident yet industrious and oddly psychedelic debut from the trio.

Upon the upload of ‘Ffunny Ffrends’, it wasn’t too long before there was label attention – even before a lineup was solidified. Perhaps in reaction to this, there remains a seeming unwillingness to post updates and showing a preference for performance and word-of-mouth over media-saturation paints UMO as primarily a live band. It’s to be expected therefore, that a finely manicured brashness demonstrating a distinct energy adorns the record, notably on tracks like ‘Bicycle’ and ‘Nerve Damage!’ On the former, maracas and guitar stabs drive the track almost mechanically as Neilsen half yelps / half croons “What a difference between what I saw / and what was before my eyes”. On the latter, wah-wah guitar gives way to a garage beat Times New Viking would be proud of and howling, cop-killing co-vocals.

Comparisons to bands from a bygone era could be drawn, but it wouldn’t do justice to the level of quality UMO has attained in distilling influences from the likes of Captain Beefheart, Sly Stone and RZA. The sounds are familiar but fresh, and though it’s difficult to gauge what will age well, the future looks very promising for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and you should probably check this record out.


Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams Review

Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Oct/2011

Score: 35

Hailing from California, Dum Dum Girls are one of the better known all-female quartets happily lost in the mildly hazy nostalgia for the 60s. Along with contemporaries (Vivian Girls, Frankie Rose and the Outs and Best Coast) Indie-Pop has become a Summer-y institution full of black clad girls with guitars that have fun rockin’ out. In contrast to the Dum Dum’s earlier work though, Only In Dreams is quite challenging for all the wrong reasons. Influences are worn boldly on sleeves, and front-chick Kristen ‘Dee Dee’ Gundred pines with (occasionally excessive) sincerity atop a chugging rhythm section – but the album is driven by roughly 5 drum beats. Sure, there’s clearly discernable difference in the albums relative highlights, but for over 75% of the album, the Dum Dums are content with polished harmonies over the same “Oh Mickey” beat, four chords, repeated choruses, forgettable melodies and trite lyrics.

‘Always Looking’ is a punchy album opener riding on a hand clapping, 60’s surf riff slice of pop-homage that immediately announces the newfound introduction of the recording studio to the Dum Dums. It’s shortly after the opening verse that the first problem arises – wasn’t one of the most endearing qualities of the debut album I Will Be (2008) the organically thick crackle and fuzz of the bedroom? Removal of such an intrinsic quality – particularly to music so evidently imbued by a past era – has to severely change the aspirations for Only In Dreams. Love and loss (particularly of Dee Dee’s mother) are still the central themes, but the lyrics never seem to look past the painfully obvious – coming across as broad and maybe even a little childish.
The closing verse of ‘In My Head’ is as follows -“Come home and kiss me / Tell me you miss me / Tell me it right / Tell me it right / Don’t bother asking how my day was / Everyday drags the same just because / Without you I can’t get out of my bed / I’d rather visit you in my head / In my head / In my head / In my head / In my head.
Similarly sentimental rhymes about beds and ‘you’ litter the whole album, yet fail to make Only In Dreams strikingly personal. Rather, the most exciting moments come in the dreamy (sincerely Mazzy Star indebted) slow jam ‘Coming Down’. A reverb laden guitar, swooning vocals and a stomping beat adorned with minor key melodies provide respite from the dull rhythms, and strike somewhere more poignant. While it’s the longest track at six and a half minutes, it’s also the most gripping – and it’s understandably the Dum Dum’s choice for lead single. To follow up the funeral march though, the up-tempo “woah” filled tune ‘Wasted Away’ – again using the drum beat of choice attempts to pummel the listener into submission. By this point though, the territory being explored is already very clear to the listener, and the songs (if they weren’t already) become nothing more than a well-produced background fuzz to tap toes to.

By limiting their scope and accentuating jangly guitars, the Dum Dum Girls were able to carve out their niche among contemporaries – hell, their earlier work is still well worth checking out. By making the leap to legitimate recording studio, over-emphasising vocals and releasing an album with a striking lack of creativity, there’s little positive to say about the sophomore effort. Aside from occasionally interesting flourishes, what seems to be left of Only In Dreams are aimless guitar solos and an ultimately formulaic, over-produced, bland and repetitive bunch of songs.