Dance to the end of times with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘Sex and Food’

Ruben Paquian

With funky psychedelic grooves and somber Spanish influenced sonnets, Unknown Mortal Orchestra explores disappointments with modern society with their fourth studio LP Sex and Food.

From their sophomore album II to their third, Multi-Love, modern psychedelic indie rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra shifted from acoustic psychedelic sound to a electronic psych pop. Their latest LP Sex and Food takes the strength of both previous albums, employing songs heavy with hard ‘70s psychedelic buzz to soft serenading hymns, making it their most diverse arrangement yet. New Zealand natives, singer songwriter Ruban Nielson and bassist Jake Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra deliver an intense commentary on the social state of the world with Sex and Food. Through their signature groovy style, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Sex and Food leaves listeners moving to songs of love and pain while waiting for the end of the world.

To serve the album’s artistic direction, Nielson took over a year to travel and record in studios around the world. With recording locations varying from Mexico City and Vietnam, influences from each region make their way onto multiple tracks. Both “Internet of Love,” an earnest address to an old lover, and the acoustic apocalyptic “This Doomsday” reveal hints of Spanish-influenced guitar melodies, most likely taken from Nielson’s time in Mexico. Subtle influences such as these add unique components to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s modern psychedelic sound.

Sex and Food expands on this psychedelic trend through its heavy use of psychedelic distortion and buzz in their guitar and bass. The album’s third track “Major League Chemicals” is a prime example of their heavy instrumentation — the high energy lo-fi buzz of the instrumentals in this piece make it sound as if it came straight from a set list at Woodstock. “American Guilt” explores a complex relationship with pride and guilt Nelson believes is accompanied with American culture. Employing the hard hitting buzz, makes this the heaviest song composed by the band.

Although Nielson denies any intention to make his albums politically charged, many of this record’s core ideas could be seen as a commentary on state of the world’s political climate. The song “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” hides its critique of society’s rampant careless drug use with funk melodies and basslines. Lyrics such as, “I’m caught beyond the feeling, I won’t live far beyond this” sums up Nielson’s feelings of pessimistic dread. The more ominous stoner psych tune “Ministry of Alienation” adds more material to this dreadful theme, addressing Nielson’s grievances with the current political discourse. The lyric “Can’t escape the 20th century, Handing in my resignation” speaks to this motifof disappointment.

While the album is rampant with heavy critiques and themes, Nielson reserves a few tracks for less politically charged themes. “Hunnybee”, a soft funky song Nielson wrote for this daughter uses a sweet groove catchy melodies as a needed break from some of the heavier themes on the album. Closing with “If You’re Going to Break Yourself,” Sex and Food concludes with a slowed heartfelt song speaking to the love that lingers after a breakup, leaving the listener with an emotionally relatable and vulnerable moment.

Perhaps Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s finest album yet, Sex and Food shows a successful evolution Nielson’s craft as writer and musician. Just about every song is dense with lyrical commentary, but done in such a way that the song’s content doesn’t distract from the music. Whether you want to just veg out or fall into an introspective meditation on the world, Sex and Food is enough to satisfy most listener’s appetites.