“Ffunny Ffriends” is a fantastic song. So fantastic that despite its repetitive nature, recycled hook, and a vocal melody that obstinately mirrors said hook, one doesn’t tire of it. A nonsensical, nostalgic work of Sixties pysch-rock, it pushes all the right buttons, and when the stuttering guitar solo kicks in, it pushes all the right buttons at once.
But is the song enough to forge and sustain an artistic path, especially one as stylized as Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s? The band is brand new, a solo project developed by Portland-by-way-of-New Zealand musician Ruban Nielson, formerly of the Mint Chicks. He launched his new act in late-2010 via a Bandcamp page featuring nothing but “Ffunny Ffriends.” Hundreds of blogs around the world picked it up.
Little more than half a year later comes the eponymous full-length debut. It’s got some wonderful moments. “Thought Ballune” is an acid-tinged Yes-meets-the-Beatles romp through a dusty record collection. Again the riff is repetitive, and again his vocals match it nearly note for note. Then there’s a Prince-ish pseudo-funk romp (“How Can You Luv Me” — many fans will surely deem it ironic) and some freaky lo-fi noise-punk (“Nerve Damage!” — Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti doing the Ramones). There’s some Captain Beefheart in there, too.
Throughout the album, Nielson’s guitar work is the real highpoint. The songs themselves are slaves to fashion. They’re great at being what they are. But provided you love a good pop song, the other eight don’t go off anything like “Ffunny Ffriends.” They never will. (Fat Possum Records)
At the Great American Music Hall (859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco) on Saturday, Oct. 1 (9 p.m., $21), and Sunday, Oct. 2 (8 p.m., $21), opening for Toro y Moi. GAMH.com