UMO – just call them UMO. That’s what I heard Ruban Nielson refer to the band as in an interview recently…and boy am I glad I heard that because Unknown Mortal Orchestra is one of those names that just does NOT roll off the tongue. In fact, you can pretty much add Unknown Mortal Orchestra to the all-time “Worst Band Name” all-star team. But as we know (looking at you, Butthole Surfers), bad band names don’t necessarily mean bad music. And in UMO’s case, it is quite the opposite.
I first heard UMO at the suggestion of my girlfriend, an avid indie music fan in her own right. I was apprehensive given the awful name but gave them a listen. After hearing the first verse of “Can’t Keep Checking my Phone” off of the bands’ 2015 release Multi-Love, I was locked in. UMO is the brainchild of Nielson, a New Zealander with serious skills on the guitar. Bouncing around from respected indie labels such as Fat Possum and Jagjaguwar, UMO has carved out an audience of diehard fans who yearn for their unique psychedelic sound.
I caught the band in San Francisco this year at the Greek Theatre, opening for fellow Down-Under contemporaries Tame Impala. I had done my research in the months leading up to the show, immersing myself in all three albums with a special interest in their terrific self-titled debut. During the show, I was blown away by the musicianship of Nielson and his bandmates. They tore through an opening set that was arguably more memorable than the main act. The vocals are hushed, muffled even but this oddly has a way of enhancing their distinct sound. Their ability to blend unique, old school rock with complex phrasing ala Frank Zappa is something that I hadn’t really heard up to that point. Needless to say I was very impressed and highly recommend this band, bad name and all.
Noteworthy Tracks: “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” “How Can u Luv Me”
Photo Credit – BrooklynVegan.com