UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA
IC-01 HANOI (Jagjaguwar/Rhythmethod)
It’s become de rigueur for hip-hop stars to hit their fans with unexpected, surprise interventions: albums that stray from the normal albumtour-album-tour cycle, and give the artist a chance to deviate from the expectations of their sponsors. But surprise albums are still a rarity in alt-rock, so we’ve got to hand it to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, that most celebrated of expat New Zealand groups, for springing the very surprising IC-01 Hanoi on us just a few months after their last release, Sex & Food.
While the name might suggest a world-music influence, this Hanoi session (which adds Ruban Nielson’s brother Kody, father Chris and a team of Vietnamese musicians) is really a chance to roll around in and relish the jazz-rock and Krautrock styles that informed Sex & Food. Free of songs, IC-01 Hanoi is clearly seven excerpts from a series of jam sessions where they get to stretch out and experiment with form and groove structure. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a blast?
While several of these tracks seethe with the dark foment of Miles Davis’s jazzrock On the Corner, the more palpable influence is Krautrock group Can, and sometimes it feels like both groups jamming simultaneously — something that would never have happened in real time in the early 70s. It’s an often heady mix, and key to the sound is the overdriven wah-wah guitar and fuzzbass, while Nielson senior is highlighted on several tracks, adding sax, flute and flugelhorn solos that can’t help but make things sound much jazzier than they otherwise might have been.
Anything but an indulgence, IC-01 Hanoi is a vital glimpse of the creative process at work and a demon- stration of a group regenerating itself through restless experimentation. The only downside for this listener is the episodic nature of these untitled tracks. There’s one 10-minute piece, and it’s a beauty that shows that repetitions piled on repetitions gather momentum over time. Most are short fragments, however, and sound like excerpts taken from really long improvisations. I wanted to hear the long versions.
UMO HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR FOUR 2018 NEW ZEALAND MUSIC AWARDS, TO BE ANNOUNCED ON NOVEMBER 15.