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Unknown Mortal Orchestra's new album, II, comes out Feb. 5. (Courtesy of the artist)

First Listen: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 'II'

Jan 20, 2013

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Stephen Thompson

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It's hard to place Unknown Mortal Orchestra's songs on a timeline: There's uncertainty baked right into the band's name, but its sound also shape-shifts frequently through the worlds of brittle indie-pop, Nuggets-era retro psych-rock, vintage soul and something more alien altogether. Though no longer enshrouded in actual anonymity — Unknown Mortal Orchestra began as a name for the solo basement recordings of Mint Chicks' Ruban Nielson, who kept his involvement quiet early on — the songs themselves don't attach themselves to specific eras, genres, seasons or regions of the country.

With the accurate if nondescript title II (out Feb. 5), UMO's second album does make Nielson's sound a bit grabbier — there's more of a breezy brightness to it than could be heard on its self-titled predecessor, while several of these songs (most notably "The Opposite of Afternoon") carry off a strain of soft psychedelic nostalgia. II still traffics in, and thrives on, its air of strangeness and unknowability, but that just makes its moments of shimmery warmth that much sweeter.

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