Ruban Nielson has some heavy stuff going on in his head. Multi-Love is the result of those heavy things. It’s also a celebration of the power of love and the power of music. It’s an emotional smorgasbord. Happy, sad, melancholy, reminiscent, confused, and overwhelming…sometimes in the same song. A lot has been said about the love and relationships Nielson lived within while writing this album, and while I’m sure the feelings he cultivated while swimming in the beauty and confusion of those relationships show up here, this is mostly a collection of weirdly beautiful songs about life itself. The ups and downs. The good and the bad. But mostly, it celebrates the ride and what we can do when we let ourselves feel the pleasure and pain of love.
Going into this record I was thinking this was going to be the most sonically clear and pristine UMO record to date, and after hearing lead single “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” I was sure that would be the case. Well, while there may be more clear-eyed moments on this record, it’s still very much immersed in the sonic murk and mire Ruban Nielson bathed his songs in previously. If not a hi fidelity effort, it’s all the more a musically experimental album while also being the most pop-inflected and highly danceable. In fact, there’s a few moments on Multi-Love you’ll find it hard not to get up and shake what the Lord gave ya. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” is Bee Gees-worthy. It’s like Giorgio Morodor producing Rufus on acid, all the while telling a true blue sad sack tale that feels as real as that hi hat. “Like Acid Rain” is two minutes of Stevie Wonder funk singed at the edges. Think “Tuesday Heartbreak” sitting in the sun too long with a bit of Prince weirdness thrown in for good measure. “Ur Life One Night” shakes and shimmies like a lothario coming down hard on the dance floor. The buzz remains, yet regret and confusion linger just around the corner. There’s a some truly great guitar noodling happening here as well. The Purple one would be proud. “Multi-Love”, “Stage or Screen”, and “Necessary Evil” wheeze and whisper with homemade synths and ethereal noise, creating an almost alien world where soul and funk melt into the cosmos. “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty” features Nieson’s dad playing some great sax, giving the song a very grounded and breezy quality.
All of these songs Nielson has penned deal with love and relationships in one way or another. A little bit about the confusion of growing feelings and a little about how we deal with those emotions. I think his inspiration to write comes from dealing with his own “multi-love” situation, but he takes those feelings and shines them outward into the bigger picture. Spread the love, and things could be quite wonderful. If we could just learn to unite and be one instead of building walls and disliking what we don’t understand the world could be so much more. Of course, we’re humans and if there’s a chance to screw something up we will do that. That’s the irony of spreading the love. Guilt, jealousy, and resentment usually ruin what could be a paradise.
Such is life.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra have always sounded like an alien version of rock, funk, and soul; and on Multi-Love Ruban Nielson perfects that alien sound. His homemade, hazy, and lovelorn songs are as good as they’ve ever been. This may even be the best record yet. It’s at times also the most confounding, as you at times yourself wishing some of the grime would wash away and you could hear these songs as naked as they were when they were written in Nielson’s basement on an acoustic guitar.
But still, a damn fine album.
8.2 out of 10