New Album Review

IC-01 Hanoi (new Unknown Mortal Orchestra album) review

IC-01 Hanoi; Unknown Mortal Orchestra

I’ve been a big UMO fan for a while now, and their progression from album-to-album is always very interesting. They’ve gone from making simple, ultra lo-fi pop tunes on their first, self-titled album to rolling out wild, energetic, psychedelic concept albums like Multi-Love. Earlier this year they put out Sex & Food, and while it may not be my favorite from them, it features some of their best songs (the opening four-song stretch is incredible, especially “Hunnybee”).  I don’t know the creation story behind this record, but I did hear that a portion of Sex & Food was recorded in the Vietnamese city, hence the title.

Ruban Nielson and company have dabbled in instrumental work before (they put out an instrumental EP every year from 2013 to 2017), but nothing they’ve done in the past had prepared me for IC-01 Hanoi. This album listens like a neon-tinted, drugged out, synth splashed remix of an unreleased George Benson record. To kind of take it track-by-track:

Hanoi 1; The familiar lo-fi psychedelic style is present from the first track, but something’s off. UMO normally sounds sort of off in terms of production; however, this opener has a very loose, jazzy style to it, and sounds very experimental even compared to the band’s previous instrumental work. The five EPs mentioned earlier at times seemed a little too similar to those clunky 1-hour chillwave mixes on YouTube; this one has a lot more substance.

Hanoi 2; Immediately changing to a much slower pace, this track puts Nielson’s guitar noodling at the forefront, complimented with some pretty drums and a nice bass riff. It’s certainly a pleasant listen, but it goes on for a bit too long.

Hanoi 3; This is a simple, short interlude with a very exotic vibe to it. If Harmony Korine were to remake Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this would be on the soundtrack. (Sorry for the pretentious movie references)

Hanoi 4; Honestly a bit disappointed by this one. Started off with a lot of promise, but ultimately the track didn’t really go anywhere. Cool to skip.

Hanoi 5; Ok this is one is really weird, and the backing instrumental sounds absolutely nothing like UMO. The drum outro is amazing.

Hanoi 6; This is the big song that keeps showing up in my Release Radar on Spotify, and it is obviously the highlight of the album. A nearly 10-minute wonder with an intoxicating sax solo and great percussion. The song (and the album for that matter) explodes around the 7-minute mark into some loud, menacing avant-garde jazz that brings to mind the 1970s work of Miles Davis. Absolutely incredible track.

Hanoi 7; This one’s good too, but it’s nothing special. The placement here bugs me a bit; it would be a lot better for the album to end with Hanoi 6.

Sour conclusion aside, this is a challenging, fascinating record that I would definitely recommend for anyone into psychedelic rock. For any jazz fan who wants to get into psychedelic rock (or vice versa), this is your best option for a transition record.