It can be hard for any person to retain anonymity nowadays, let alone a musical artist, but that’s exactly how Unknown Mortal Orchestra introduced itself. In 2010, UMO’s song “Ffunny Ffrends” popped up online, going viral in a matter of months. Bloggers and fans scrambled to find out who the creators were, to no avail. Finally, a musician named Ruban Nielson unmasked himself and claimed he was the man responsible.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s self-titled debut came in 2011, and even the music itself is somewhat mysterious. Positioned somewhere between psychedelia, funk, and glam, the LP is a world in itself. Nielson, who hails from New Zealand, recorded the album with two other musicians in his Portland, Oregon home studio. Even with this unassuming background, Unknown Mortal Orchestra caught on, winning the Taite Music Prize for album of the year by a New Zealand artist.
It could be hard to tap back into that intrigue after winning the world’s attention, but Unknown Mortal Orchestra are up to the task. On February 5 comes II, which perfectly sidesteps the sophomore slump trap. This time around, the production is less hazy, focusing instead on Nielson’s strong songwriting. “So Good At Being In Trouble” is a R&B hit stripped to its core, recalling David Bowie and Al Green in one breath, yet the characterization at the song’s center–“she’s so good at being in trouble…so bad at being in love”–is undeniably modern. It’s hard to know where to place Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but that’s a good problem to have.