Keep in touch with VOXX

Email: or Tel T: 01472 240440

Music UMO

Published on April 13th, 2018 | by voxx


Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

Ruban Nielson takes a funky, psychedelic trip of self-discovery…

In May 2015, the narrative around a promising modern psych album went off on a rather unexpected trajectory. The third Unknown Mortal Orchestra album, Multi-Love, showcased a talent of Beck-like agility: where wooziness and glitches only partially disguised the pop smarts of their linchpin, Ruban Nielson.

The album, it transpired, was about the polyamorous relationship Nielson, his wife and another woman had engaged in while the recording was being made. Repercussions were inevitable. The third person, who’d been forced to leave the US due to visa issues, cut off communication in the wake of Nielson’s indiscretion. And the imaginative music that this New Zealand expat made in his Portland basement becomes inseparable from the backstory, and the prurience it attracted.

The suspicion that Nielson might be somehow chastened by the whole experience comes through immediately on Sex & Food, Multi-Love’s frequently tremendous follow-up, as an opening instrumental of sputtering beats and distorted Brian Wilson piano is given the title ‘A God Called Hubris’. Escape seems to be on Nielson’s mind. Recording sessions took place in Seoul, Hanoi, Reykjavik, Mexico City and Auckland, as if he were on the run from a complicated life, only to find himself in a wider, even more complicated world.

Still, Nielson’s trademark sound – a mix of acid rock and plastic soul coated in grime – is much the same as it was in the hermetic environs of his home. Prince-like virtuosity is casually deployed, so much so Nielson seems to pay as much attention to detritus as technique: the squeak of strings feels as important as the actual filigree acoustic playing on ‘This Doomsday’. Elevated pop moments, likewise, manifest themselves unassumingly: ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’, in particular, resembles a Michael Jackson take on Blondie’s ‘Union City Blue’.

Just as Nielson’s sonic aesthetic remains constant wherever he travels, so do his anxieties – about old relationships, old friends, old habits. The most overt reference to a meal on Sex & Food has the Greek god Chronos eating his children, and the album could have been more appositely titled “Sex & Drugs”, given the chemical references. Outstanding slow jams like ‘Not In Love We’re Just High’ offer Nielson as a rueful, whispering successor to Green Gartside.

Nielson would do well to learn from Scritti Politti’s obliqueness, after his previous confessions. Nevertheless, the highlight of Sex & Food comes with ‘Hunnybee’, a straightforward love song – albeit one addressed to his seven-year-old daughter. Over lovely, clipped funk he observes that “days are getting darker”, but a father’s duty compels him to find strands of optimism in how “eras rot like nature”. As with geopolitics, perhaps also with personal affairs, it is Nielson’s peculiar genius to retain the lightest touch, even as everything falls apart.

- By Jake White

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Back to Top ↑

  • Welcome to VOXX Online

    voxx_coversVOXX is Lincolnshire’s number one volunteer-led magazine, running both quarterly print editions and ongoing digital content, giving young people the opportunity to develop real journalism skills.
    READ MORE about how you can get involved.

  • This Month’s Theme

    The next issue is underway, but we still need your help! While we are still accepting content on any topic and still love to read all your reviews, we would like to put an emphasis on feelgood stories for issue 68, things that can open our eyes or make us feel something, whether that’s advice on conquering a fear or goal, stories from real people in the community, celebrations and events, stories of experiences in foreign, far off places, or perhaps something as simple as a warming family recipe.

    Good luck, and happy writing!

  • Advertise with VOXX

    Want your business to be exposed to the whole region and beyond? Advertising with VOXX might just help you.

    We publish a new issue of this ever-growing youth magazine quarterly in print, with ongoing content on this website throughout the year.

    We offer a range of sizes to suit every price range and we’ll even design the artwork for you at no extra cost!

    Contact our sales team on (01472) 240440 for more information about this excellent value opportunity.

  • Latest


  • Connect with us!

    Facebook: VOXX
    Twitter: @voxxmagazine
    Instagram: voxxmagazine
    Pinterest: VOXX