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Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II (Jagjaguwar) 

The sound of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's eponymous 2011 debut was a hodgepodge of psychedelia and funk filtered through a spacey garage-rock sheen. It's a bewitching album, experimental but endlessly listenable, sonically layered but also fun to sing along to.

II, the band's latest, picks up where the last album left off, but doubles down on the band's penchant for straying from an essentialist view of what a garage album should sound like. "So Good at Being in Trouble" is a straight-up soul song, with singer Ruban Nielson channeling more Al Green than Reg Presley. Overall, II is less interested in squelch. It's a calmer album than its predecessor, constantly skirting the line between rock and R&B, like on "Monki," a seven-minute-long come-on in which the bridge consists of nothing more than some minimalist psychedelic guitar noodling and a drum kit so muffled it sounds like it's being played in a paper bag in the other room. It's surprising that something so spare could sound so crammed with references—to krautrock, to Zeppelin, to Cream, to Sam Cooke.

That spirit of synthesis dominates the album, from the raucous "Faded in the Morning" to the honey-sweet '60s pop of "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)" to the Hendrix-inspired swagger of "One at a Time." II begs to be listened to during dark, early morning hours as you're coming down from the previous night's escapades. It's haunted enough to match the mood, yet oddly comforting.

More by Sean Bottai

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