Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘V’: A Sun-Baked Journey through Love, Loss, and Ruban Nielson’s Hawaiian Heritage

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s fifth album ‘V’ is a journey through love, loss, and Ruban Nielson’s Hawaiian heritage. The double album, spanning 14 tracks and 60 minutes, explores Nielson’s inner demons and his roots, resulting in a sun-baked sound that’s all about palm trees, pools, and pain.

Nielson’s eloquent writing about emotions shines through in ‘V,’ making it clear that he was never destined to remain hidden behind tape hiss. The album’s opener, ‘The Garden,’ sets the tone with its classic UMO groove that clocks in at over six minutes. ‘Guilty Pleasures,’ ‘That Life,’ and ‘Weekend Run’ emerge as the album’s anthems, all built on punching drums and guitar licks that showcase Nielson’s Jimi Hendrix fixation and his obsession with vintage equipment and building his own pedals.

As ‘V’ unfolds, the second half of the album slows down, with laidback ballads such as ‘Layla’ and ‘Nadja’ inviting the listener to ruminate along with Nielson. The album’s four instrumentals add to the overall ambiance, creating a magnum opus that’s both unrelentingly ambitious and self-indulgent in just the right amounts.

Nielson’s career has been marked by the idea that UMO could compete with pop icons like Bruno Mars if he cleaned up the production. But ‘V’ shows that Nielson continues to thrive amidst the mess, offering a record with a magical vibe that leaves a lingering impression that some great undiscovered talent is behind the songs.

The album was inspired by Nielson’s return to his family in Hawaii in 2019, where he spent time with his family in Hilo after one of his uncles was diagnosed with cancer. ‘V’ features not only Nielson’s brother and bandmate Kody but also his father, adding a personal touch to the album’s already intimate sound.

Overall, ‘V’ is a stunning addition to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s discography, showcasing Nielson’s growth and his ability to create a record that’s both deeply personal and universally relatable.