Unknown Mortal Orchestra has been at the forefront of the modern psych-rock genre, releasing their fourth album, Sex and Food, in April of 2018. In IC-01 Hanoi, the band maintains their distorted, textured sound, but begins experimenting with freeform, sonic jazz influences and Vietnamese instruments throughout the exploratory album.
Structurally, IC-01 Hanoi is comprised of seven instrumental tracks that are listed as “Hanoi 1-7”. The title track, “Hanoi 1”, is the most recognizable to fans of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, as it adheres to their characteristic sound: distorted and complicated rhythms. On a first listen, it becomes apparent that lead singer Ruban Nielson was inspired by the works of Miles Davis when creating the album, as “Hanoi 5” features a muted trumpet solo that flows over the pulsating groove of the drums and synths in the background. The synthesizer is featured in “Hanoi 4” as well, balancing the scratchy drone of a guitar with a unique, tumbling noise.
The inspiration that Nielson drew from Hanoi, Vietnam — the city where the album was recorded — is obvious as well; tracks like “Hanoi 3” showcase the sáo trúc, a Vietnamese flute, among the wall of distortion and percussive instruments. The springy, reverb-laden noise that echoes behind tracks like “Hanoi 6” and “Hanoi 7” can be attributed to the Đàn môi, a Vietnamese instrument akin to the jaw harp.
Although IC-01 Hanoi is different from the material that Unknown Mortal Orchestra has released in the past, both sonically and structurally, it still maintains their distinctive sound, proving that the band is able to experiment successfully with other genres. This album makes the perfect companion for a study session, as the cool, steady groove that flows through each track creates a relaxed, almost meditative ambiance for the listener.