Endless Playlist: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Jeff Terich
Unknown Mortal Orchestra best albums of 2015

Unknown Mortal Orchestra have an uncanny ability to turn the fuzziest and most warmly charming lo-fi pop songs into psychedelic rock symphonies without abandoning any of their insular sweetness. But “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” is the first time that psychedelic rock symphony has given way to lush disco-pop. It’s a glorious sensory experience, all rubbery basslines and flashing lights and brilliantly beautiful high-fidelity sounds — and yet, it’s still unmistakably Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I’m not sure that Ruban Nielson, the group’s leader, knows how not to sound like Unknown Mortal Orchestra at this point — and that’s an asset far more than it is a liability. It’s not just an aesthetic that Nielson & Co. wield, but a unique atmosphere that exists only in their own music.

Not that UMO didn’t aim for something that blew their atmosphere wide open on new album Multi-Love; in an interview with Stereogum, Nielson says that he was trying to make a “super-fi” album. And you can hear the difference, but maybe not to the extent were it actually produced by someone like Max Martin. But the horns and synths and hand-claps that make up the building blocks of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” mark a definite shift, and one that’s hard not to love immediately. A lot of that has to do with the bassline, which grooves so hard, you might convince yourself that iTunes just shuffled on over to Saturday Night Fever when you weren’t paying attention. But a lot of it is also thanks to Nielson himself, whose vocal hook during the chorus might be the greatest six seconds of the band’s entire catalog. During the verses, he’s on about some inscrutable cricket-eating dadaism, which is one tell that you are not, in fact, listening to a ’70s disco relic. But that’s part of the joy of Unknown Mortal Orchestra — they’ve got the songwriting chops to make a pop smash, but can’t stop themselves from fucking with it, just a little.

[from Multi-Love, out May 26; Jagjaguwar]
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