Our Music Editor sounds off on the Portland band’s latest, an album that tells the story of one man, two lovers and the single bond between them.
By Haley Albert
Disregard a few minor details like names and time periods, and you might confuse Ruban Nielson’s life for the plot of François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim: a movie about a polyamorous love story set in WWI-era Paris. Nielson’s life is not the imagined world of the French New Wave forefather, but the real life love story between three unlikely people, a story that is chronicled on the new Unknown Mortal Orchestra album Multi-Love.
The Portland-via-New Zealand Orchestra’s love story unfolds as most marriage-ending stories do: a man in a band who is married with kids meets a girl while on tour. This seemingly predictable tale contours in the most unimaginable way: Nielson’s pen-pal-ship turns into inadvertent polyamory beside his wife, Jenny, and morphs into one happy Portland family, complete with two children. That is, until the fifth member of their family fails to obtain her third visa, and becomes stuck in paperwork purgatory.
With exceptionally skilled guitar playing and psychedelic slabs of funk, Nielson’s Seventies' sounding Multi-Love is an adventure into the life of a true contrarian.
On the title track, Nielson outlines the beginning of his relationship with both Laura, the girl from on tour, and his wife as an emotional bedlam. “Checked into my heart and trashed it like a hotel room” he sings before wishing “all her minds be made up.” In an interview with David Bevan of Pitchfork, Nielson explains that his wife was the one that invited Laura to stay with them and their children for a while, flipping the nuclear family ideal on its head. “Think about the two most serious relationships in your life so far, and then experiencing them simultaneously,” he said. “It makes you wonder: How much can a human being deal with emotionally?”
Nielson’s voice sounds like its submerged in a bath of retro homemade synthesizers and horns on ‘Stage on Screen,’ While on ‘Necessary Evil’ he is filled with more optimism as he sings on a simple up-and-down melody.
The album is a beautiful recount of a relatively unknown journey into the emotional peaks and valleys of polyamorous love. It feels decidedly retro both lyrically and sonically, while the album feels like it could have been produced as much in the Seventies as today. If you haven’t already, check out Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s freshman and sophomore albums—and share the love yourself.