Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been in love with two people at the same time? Have you ever heard a song written about love? These questions and the further complexities of love are detailed on the latest album from New Zealand lo-fi indie rock outfit, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. With reckless abandon, frontman/creative mastermind Ruban Nielson reinvented the band with a higher quality sound in terms of not only instrumentation and production, but also lyrical subject matter on their new record Multi-Love. Bordering on the strange and personal, Nielson details his life with incredible care and turns his usual lo-fi bedroom psych rock into a collection of hi-fi disco/funk-influenced space jams.
Starting last year, Nielson wrote this record when he and his wife embarked on a relationship experiment. While touring his last record, he had met a girl and kept in regular contact with her. This girl, his wife, and Nielson then formed a polygamous relationship while raising his two children. This record attempts to gather all the emotional complexity that he was feeling throughout this experiment. Ergo the title track, “Multi-Love.” The song begins with a baroque electric piano, then segues into a Mad Men themed drum break, followed by a hook straight out of the 70’s. Nielson laments the intense feelings of splitting his love between the two women, “we were one, then become three,” creating twice the amount of problems for himself and his family. The other lead single, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” relates to Nielson dealing with the girl’s absence while he and his wife are still living in New Zealand. With a disco dance beat and crazy synth effects—all backed by stellar guitar—he turns this track into possibly the most poppy song he’s written to date.
Every track on the record, though layered and sporadic in instrumentation, never loses focus on the melody or groove the song starts out with. “Ur Life One Night” digresses to the feeling one feels when they get the “love at first sight” instinct, while laying down quite possibly the sexiest guitar lick on the whole record. “Necessary Evil” discusses the inner working of his mind while this polygamous relationship slowly goes from the honeymoon phase into the more complex divergent phase—using some excellent horn lines on the chorus. The album closer “Puzzles” opens with the staple Unknown Mortal Orchestra acoustic plucking before diverging into the most insane synth chords heard by man; this all while Nielson discusses the anguish of trying to make this relationship work, “I don’t want to solve your puzzles anymore,” he says, trying to make everyone else in the world to understand. To be fair, the lyrics can be a little harder to understand with so much going on in many of the songs, and the verses are sometimes personal nonsense, (favorite line “we eat crickets, in the future”). Nielson tends to keep the lyrics cryptic, while bringing out the main themes when he can.
Overall, this is an excellent work to add the Unknown Mortal Orchestra catalog. Multi-Love is one of the most interesting thematic concepts for any record about love and relationship strife, all while creating a feeling not unlike taking acid and going to a discotheque on the moon. This album will satisfy both longtime fans and new listeners to the unmistakable sound of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Bravo!