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The Boston Globe

Music

Ruban Nielson finds the future in the past

The inventive songwriter Ruban Nielson has said that he dug deep into the psychedelic records of the ’60s as a way to dive past punk toward the roots of counterculture. His music, manifested since 2010 as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, represents that dive in a straight-faced way. Within it you can hear Nielson reverse engineering the last two decades of alternative and indie-rock, devolving back to a more primal code: the simple roots of the fuzzed pop of the Flaming Lips; the ethereal, whispering voice of Elliott Smith; and even an ancestral bass line one iteration away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge.” His songs are like earlier versions of our cultural software.

A less generous attitude toward Unknown Mortal Orchestra — which Nielson brings Saturday night to the Brighton Music Hall on the heels of his second album, “II” — might reduce the project to mere revivalism, which wouldn’t be totally wrong. The music rehashes Al Green soul and smoke-softened rock ’n’ roll that a lot of baby boomers might mistake for one of their own. But that doesn’t mean he’s old-fashioned.

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