I think it is reasonable to say most music written is about love. Love is an emotion that has such imperceptible power, it could carve a Grand Canyon into anyone’s heart. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson wrote his newest album in the wake of a relationship’s dissolution, though the falling out is not with his wife. Multi Love is an autobiographical record, about Nielson’s brief but intense experience with polyamory.
The title track of the record, though glossing over many of the finer details of the relationship, still provides an accurate portrait of Nielson’s broken spirit. “Multi love checked into my heart and trashed it like a hotel room,” the song begins. The image is so perfect, evoking this dingy, romantic version of what rock and roll was years ago. It matches the tinted feeling of the track (and record) and works together to form this emotional harmony.
Nielson did not enjoy such internal harmony at times during, and especially after one of his partners left the picture. His wife had suggested that a woman that both of them were mutually enamored with live with them for a few months. Like Nielson and his wife, the newcomer was a New Zealander, and once her visa expired, reality set in. Nielson was juggling feelings for his wife as well as this other woman that he knew so intimately, that his wife also knew intimately. His heart was pulled in multiple directions, with so many implications that he’d never even considered that he’d have to consider, and he was fatigued. This album is how he channeled his energy during his regular bouts of insomnia, and was a healthy way to cope with his loss.
The song shifts in energy via the instrumentation, where the syntax plays an integral role. The first verse slowly opens the track, introducing us to the God who suffocates Nielson with an emotion that destroys him and yet is the inspiration for this entire album. The drums give way for the next verse, then the blunt refrain:
“Multi love has got me on my knees
We were one, then become three
Mama, what have you done to me?
I’m half crazy”
The instrumentation from the beginning of the track returns with the third verse, as if reconsidering the whole affair. That sense is thrown out when the rock n roll image returns, this time with the energy of the drums behind it. It feels so matter-of-fact, as if to say, yes, I feel truly awful and it’s tough to comprehend but I don’t really want to keep discussing it so stop asking.
You wouldn’t have as many questions were you to listen to the album in full, out now on Jagjaguwar. The idea of polyamory is something I almost distrusted until I read more about Nielson, and the emotion in Multi Love is palpable. Pick a copy up today.