Review: Sex & Food, Unknown Mortal Orchestra



Sex & Food is as much about the old as it is the new. In what is UMO’s fourth studio album, frontman Ruban Nielson finds an immaculate balance between originality and, as Leonard Bernstein called it, 'stealing classy’: its biggest strength lies in attentive - if eclectic - borrowing. By refracting a jumble of influences through the prism of his own musical language and production (like on their last album Multi-Love, Nielson mixed many of the songs himself), Sex & Food simultaneously evokes a strangely familiar, yet wonderfully unique soundworld.

Tracks like Major League Chemicals and American Guilt channel the raw energy of Hendrix and Zappa, but are tempered with a subtlety and restraint reminiscent of a closely supervised Steely Dan session guitarist. For me the most compelling song on the album, Ministry of Alienation draws unmistakably from the heavily compressed, basement psychedelica of Tame Impala's Lonerism, and yet the unpredictable chord sequences and saucy harmony give it a fresh, UMO-flavour that proves irresistible.

Whereas OMU’s last album Multi-love took us on a revealing, and strangely uplifting journey into his polyamory, Nielson’s lyrics in Sex & Food depict a far darker decent into loneliness. The crushing nihilism invoked by songs like The Internet of Love (‘I wake up alone/Do you wake up with someone else?’) is broken up only by occasional bursts of (dark) humour. If You're Going to Break Yourself, for example. This beautifully constructed lament to love lost could have been written by Paul McCartney’s evil twin, for where McCartney wrote 'Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you', Nielson opts for 'You're an asshole you know, but I miss you’. Indeed, If the album suffers from anything it is this almost overwhelming sense of sadness you end up feeling for Nielson, who doesn’t quite reach Smashing Pumpkins levels of self-indulgence, but more than once had me reaching for my eyeliner. 

Ultimately the album has done what it needed to do in cementing UMO’s reputation as leading figures in the psychedelic rock scene. No sacrifice to quality or musicianship has been made in its attempt to combine a unique sound with seductive melodies, and whilst the subject matter may leave you feeling a tad morose, it’s a meagre price to pay for what is an extremely rewarding 43 minutes.