The sleeve for Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘Multi-Love’ is simple enough. It shows the bulk of Ruban Nielson’s studio, old tapes sharing space with framed cover art for UMO’s two previous LPs, staring down on progress. The set-up looks elaborate, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. That’s with the exception of a great, bulging pink orb shape that looks like it’s breaking through the ceiling. Something strange is afoot. An alien quality, this isn’t just some overexposed hipstamatic photograph - it’s a pointer to Nielson’s mentality on LP3. Yes, he’s going gung-ho with studio wizardry, trying techniques he’s previously avoided. But with every move, he’s trying to take convention into outer space.
On paper, ‘Multi-Love’ deals with the dramatics highs and lows of a relationship. Everyday emotions rule the roost, but it’s not quite as it seems. Clue’s in the title: This isn’t just one strand of love Nielson’s dealing with. It’s arriving from all sides, overflowing the conscience and kicking aside sanity. Just like with the last two records, nothing’s delivered one-dimensionally with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. ‘Multi-Love’’s title-track is a spiralling R&B ballad, but vocals sound like they’re being submerged in ether. It’s a disco track, if the disco was attended by brain-rotting zombies. Same goes for ‘Stage or Screen’, a romantic road trip where the wheels are spinning off into the distance.
On the odd occasion, regularity resumes. ‘Necessary Evil’ is a gorgeous, straight-down-the-line number, Nielson’s no-frills vocal being backed by horns, of all things. But if confusion takes a backseat, it returns triumphantly on closer ‘Puzzles’, which scatters hundreds of jigsaw pieces down the back of the sofa, no hope in hell of ever being rediscovered. By building his own synths and meeting his troubles head-on, Nielson has created a bizarre take on romance, one that for the most part breeds devastating results. ‘Like Acid Rain’ - a barmy, fleeting two-minute dose of psych - shows the studio-head at his best, always on the brink of losing control. He sounds like Prince on a roller coaster.