One of my favorite albums of 2013 was recorded at the bottom of a well on the same three-track used to record the first 13th Floor Elevators songs. The tapes were buried in New Zealand for 30 years, thrown in a lake, dried on top of a space heater, then released as an album. I don't think any of that is actually true, but Unknown Mortal Orchestra's II always sounds like it's traveled great time and distance. The sounds are instantly familiar, but never derivative. This is more difficult than it sounds with some of psychedelia's cliches pretty well entrenched in a lot of the past decade's garden-variety indie pop.
As with all great records, the more I listen to it, the more I'm immersed in its atmosphere, unable to stop humming the hooks, and reminded that some of the best pop music draws unapologetically on other sources to create something unique. This is the perfect record for a claustrophobic Colorado winter and its sometimes surreal periods of thaw ("Swim and Sleep Like a Shark" is right up there with George Harrison at his most melancholic), and almost every song on the album is a different point of departure. When I'm not wearing out II, these are some of the records it's sent me back to:
T-Rex: Electric Warrior - Singer Ruban Nielson often channels Marc Bolan pretty convincingly, albeit in a more lo-fi mode. "So Good at Being in Trouble" has more than a few things in common with "Cosmic Dancer." "No Need for a Leader" wouldn't be out of place alongside a track like "Jeepster."
The Clientele: Suburban Light - The Clientele's early output hits the perfect equilibrium between songwriting and sonics. The intentionally reverb-drenched sound of these early singles makes the songs sound timeless, like forgotten Donovan or Nuggets-era one-offs blaring out of a transistor radio.
Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information - Otis gives these songs a sense of huge scale, despite the fact that much of it was recorded at home with him playing all of the instruments. It's worth a listen not only for the endlessly soloing guitars of the famous "Strawberry Letter 23," but also for some truly weird experiments with an early drum machine.
Jean-Michel Jarre: Oxygene - I enjoy "Dawn," a brief synthesizer piece towards the end of II, more than I should, perhaps because I have a soft spot for the self-indulgence the instrument has encouraged in everyone from Genesis to Daft Punk. Jarre was one of the best at making moody pieces that take themselves a little too seriously, a vein that's still mined pretty heavily by the likes of Daniel Lopatin. In this case, it comes at just the right time and sticks around just long enough to set the stage for the standout "Faded in the Morning."
Ty Segall: Goodbye Bread - Garage Rock. Plain and simple. And as on many of UMO's more upbeat tracks, Ty Segall's band get as much out of the formula as they can. "My head explodes"could be a description of the sublime, or a just a mission statement.