Music of the Week: Unknown Mortal Orchestra Show a Little Tenderness

'Multi-Love' is the best R&B album you weren't expecting in 2015.

I've always enjoyed Unknown Mortal Orchestra's music, but at a distance. The ramshackle micro-rock of Ruban Neilson's 2010 self-titled debut under the moniker was very charming and enjoyable. II, from 2013, took the previous record's formula and expanded upon it quite literally, with a stronger emphasis on guitar jams and sunlit melodies. It didn't grab me the way the first record did, but there were two songs in particular that stuck in my craw: the melancholic "Swim and Sleep Like a Shark," and the slinky R&B jam "So Good At Being In Trouble."

For the project’s new LP, Multi-Love, Neilson has gone whole-hog with the R&B impulses and it works beautifully, a corroded-neon album full of Stevie Wonder keyboard runs and swaying helium vocals. It was hard to trace specific emotions through his previous albums, but Neilson’s songwriting on Multi-Love carries a specifically adrift sadness (no doubt aided by the deeply personal themes the record was influenced by). It’s a record that sounds inhuman in its texture, but teems with subtleties that suggest the existence of life.

It's far from a total bummer, though: the druggy "Like Acid Rain" squeaks and squiggles with an enjoyable manic urgency, and then there's Multi-Love's ostensible sequel to "So Good At Being in Trouble," the half-stepper "I Can't Keep Checking My Phone." It sounds like an of Montreal song slowed-down to 33 RPM, a description that I never thought I'd like—but, then again, I never thought this guy would make a whole R&B-influenced album that was so mesmerizingly beautiful, and here we are. Godspeed, Ruban.