From slick R&B to psychedelic jams

Portland-via-New Zealand act Unknown Mortal Orchestra's breakout album was 2015's Multi-Love, and aside from maybe the title track, the breakout song from that record was “Can't Keep Checking My Phone,” a disco-inflected R&B song that finds frontman Ruban Nielson at odds with technology. (And back then iPhones were only 4 inches long. Now they can recognize your face.)

In contrast to the taut, hyper-produced songs on Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra's most recent release, IC-01 Hanoi, is the polar opposite. The album, recorded during sessions for 2018's Sex & Food, was conceived during a late-night jam session at Phu Sa Studios in the Vietnamese city of Hanoi with Nielson, his brother (Kody) and his father (Chris), plus UMO's Jacob Portrait and local musician Ming Nguyen. The instrumental record is a free-form slab of fuzzy psych-rock and experimental jazz.

The downside of Nielson's insatiable thirst for sonic exploration is that the journeys don't always feel worthwhile. UMO is prone to proggy noodling and guitar pedal porn. But usually Nielson finds a way to make Unknown Mortal Orchestra's keep-'em-guessing albums feel exciting rather than meandering. (Safe bet)