Over the last three albums UMO’s Ruban Nielsen has evolved as an alchemist of psychedelic blue-eyed soul, Stevie Wonder disco epics for the earbud mafia and cracked indie pop that fizzes fast but spreads smooth. It would be hard to top his previous album, 2015’s neon-hued groove garden Multi-Love, and to be fair Sex & Food doesn’t really. Its more of a lateral shift in the same environment, pulling from similar roots with often equally compelling results. This time around Nielsen injects a bit of psychedelic fire into the proceedings, as on first single “American Guilt,” a song built on speaker cone-crunching volume and guitar riffs that feel like they might shake the shutters off of the house. He hot-glues the guitars to infectiously rickety beats that sound like they might have been penned down under MacGuyver-like pressure using what bolts and bits were on hand.
The single is a scorcher and it finds a kindred spirit in the transistor-psych howler “Major League Chemicals,” however, If the whole record were operating on that level things might get exhausting. To his credit most moments are nowhere near as raucous as these peaks, opting often for Nielsen’s R&B butter-edged soul, soothing and smoothing things into bedroom eyes territory. Only he’s ruminating on the various consumptions that drive our lives and how they’ll hurt or heal us in equal measures. These calm eddies are where the album shines, grabbing hold tightest when the songwriter reaches just past the ripple-rainbows of shimmer in his production for a spark of soul. He latches on perfectly with “Not In Love We’re Just High,” another single cut that finds him grasping for the notes and making the audience feel the pull.
The album is a chemically induced k-hole that pulls listeners into Nielsen’s headspace, whirling pop splashes of glow paint all over the deep embrace of a couch and dimmed lights. There’s a certain satisfaction in an artist’s rendering of life as a stoned dive into your phone with the stereo on too loud. Anxieties and pleasures come quick and many, but ultimately the effects wear off and we’re left to deal with the dishes. Its good to know that UMO’s got you covered when you want to stay in and succumb to the cycle of slack, obsession and insecurity though. I’m on board for that ride.
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