Photo by Neil Krug

Orchestral Maneuvers

Unknown Mortal Orchestra returns to Eugene with unfulfilled potential

Eugene gets to experience a tiny little slice of Coachella when New Zealand-via-Portland indie rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra kick off a string of West Coast warm-up dates at WOW Hall. The tour culminates with the band’s appearance at the Southern California music festival later on in April.

UMO, which is pretty much just one guy named Ruban Nielson, released two albums last year — Sex and Food and IC 01 Hanoi, a 7-track experiment, recorded in Hanoi.

The short album showed Nielson’s willingness to take the UMO project deeper than ever into the world of prog rock and jazz fusion. 

Sex and Food, on the other hand, is pretty par-for-the-course UMO: psychedelic indie-rock and neo-soul bridging Hendrix-style riffs and grooves on tracks like “Major League Chemicals,” with songs like “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” sounding a little like a demo song Pharrell might submit to Bruno Mars.

Elsewhere, “Hunnybee” has the clean lines of the hit “Feel it Still” — by Portugal. The Man — with a groove just asking for CeeLo Green to lay a vocal track over. And it’s in these moments Nielson’s art-pop genius really shines — moments that came more frequently on UMO’s last studio release 2015 Multi-Love, and that are sorely missed throughout most of Sex and Food.

It seems, then, as UMO hits the road down to Coachella, Nielson may be standing at a crossroads with his work. His neo-soul and indie pop time-to-shine may have come and gone with Multi-Love.

Now, Nielson’s returned after a long three years with two vastly different releases that are at best un-pigeonhole-able, and at worst are a little unfocused and unrealized.

But why does that matter? Perhaps the issues lay less in how we see UMO but, instead, in how Nielson sees the project from the inside. He’s an actor constantly miscasting himself — either as a Prince-like neo-soul auteur, a shut-in genius or a psychedelic rocker.

And sometimes this all seems to be born less from of a voracious musical appetite than from a place of creative insecurity.  

Unknown Mortal Orchestra 

Thursday, April 11 • 8:30 pm

WOW Hall

$20 advance, $25 door