Unknown Mortal Orchestra are no strangers to the psych-pop/indie pop scene; their first 2 records demonstrated their capability to produce well-crafted lo-fi indie tunes with multiple genre influences despite slight inconsistency in quality. Based on their 2015 release Multi-Love, which was packed with memorable hooks, funky basslines, and varied, colorful synth melodies, it seemed that the group could be in the middle of a career peak. But while Sex and Food does work in a similar neo-psychedelic and lo-fi sound palette, it’s more like a regurgitation of their past sound stripped of life. A good chunk of the record lazily blends moody guitar passages, mild synth work, mediocre vocal deliveries, and weak hooks into half-baked songs that lack impact altogether. Nothing is enticing about the project’s songwriting in any respect either, which leaves just about nothing to carry it.
A God Called Hubris’ glitchy production/funky bassline calls back to their neo-psych roots and foreshadows the hard-hitting boost in the next track, Major League Chemicals. This cut embodies everything I wanted from the rest of the album; the gritty vocals and thunderous bass give it a roaring punch and flashy explosion of energy that would’ve been a promising direction to move towards. However, the next cut introduces mellow, watered-down instrumentation that proves to be a recurring theme on the songs left. The painfully monotonous nature of the percussion, average bassline, & sluggish synth chords forced me to suspect its descent into mediocrity. It even wastes hints of potential, like the sax solo in its final 10 seconds that could’ve made for a charming touch had it been strung out.
However, things look up a bit on Hunnybee, a captivatingly glossy/peppy cut with a memorable lead that subtly blends in strings, elegant keys, and grittier layers of guitars. But the mood quickly trails off in Chronos Feasts on His Children, a rough acoustic cut that feels painfully awkward in its place. If these transitions weren’t questionable enough already, American Guilt whips in a garage rock tone whose grittiness feels totally unfitting, despite being a decent moment consumed by itself with a hook that’s actually memorable. This portion of the album reads as a huge misstep; it’s as if these outside influences were thrown in to desperately force variety.
The album’s remaining songs soon blend into a slog of formulaic repetition; The Internet of Love (That Way) is a perfect example of this lack of impact. Its funky guitar layers may have pleasant trippy undertones, but they doesn’t stick. This Doomsday rehashes the rough recording technique seen on Chronos Feasts on His Children, but the track’s mixing distracts from it considerably. Other elements try to make their presences known, but are drowned out by the overpowering nature of the acoustic guitar. No moments stand out, and trying to force yourself to be engaged in its lack of substance is a chore.
This release was one of the year’s biggest letdowns, unfortunately. It seems like a rushed final product that’s sonically & lyrically directionless; I can’t picture the group having put sufficient thought into its conceptual goal. While none of it is offensively poor (it’s an easygoing, mild release that’s pleasant to have playing in the background), I have enough faith in UMO to expect a bit more out of their material. Really hoping they take the time to fully flesh out their next full-length effort.