Unknown Mortal Orchestra - IC-01 Hanoi

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Review

Review Text IC-01 Hanoi is quite different from anything else in the Unknown Mortal Orchestra catalog. While in Vietnam recording the 2018 album Sex & Food, group leader Ruban Nielson, his brother drummer Kody Nielson, and bassist Jacob Portrait took some time out from the sessions to lay down some electric jazz tracks. They were joined by Vietnamese musician Minh Nguyen and the Nielsons' dad, Chris, on flügelhorn, saxophone, and keys. The result was seven songs that are heavily influenced by electric Miles Davis records like On the Corner, only flavored with Vietnamese sounds and spiced by Ruban's fuzzy guitar wanderings. The record is split between short expressionist pieces that meander peacefully, letting Nguyen's flute and percussion come to the fore, and free-flowing jazz-funk workouts that sound haunted and wired. The record is anchored by "Hanoi 6," a lengthy deep-groove ballad that features Nguyen's Đàn môi (a kind of bamboo jaw harp) setting the spooky atmosphere and Chris Nielson unspooling a long, expressive solo. This last track is the most effective of the batch because it really takes flight and sounds fully realized. The moodily psychedelic "Hanoi 2," which showcases Ruban's spiky, drowned-in-EFX electric guitar skills, is the next longest and most realized piece; the rest of the album sounds like sketches of a moment in time that are good to hear once, but don't stand up to repeated listens. Overall, IC-01 Hanoi is interesting and shows that the band does have impressive range, but it's not quite an essential piece of the UMO puzzle. ~ Tim Sendra

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