The Complex Puzzle Of "Can't Keep Checking My Phone"
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The Complex Puzzle Of "Can't Keep Checking My Phone"

The music video for Unknown Mortal Orchestra's song carries a list of mysterious terms - let's break them down.

The Complex Puzzle Of "Can't Keep Checking My Phone"
Wikimedia Commons

One of the most exciting, intriguing sensations one can experience is the discovery of new music. Hearing an artist or a group whose music has not yet graced your ears can be a lovely ordeal. Listening to these new songs for the first time, while also viewing their accompanying music videos truly elevates the experience even further.

This was what I was able to happen upon recently via a string of random YouTube auto-play skips. The band is called Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and they have a unique, vibrant sound which I can only compare to the likes of Tame Impala, and even that does not do justice to their arrangement. The first video I watched was for their song "Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark)," which led to "Necessary Evil," which led to "Multi-Love."

Finally, I was sitting before my computer screen, comfortably in my bed on a lazy afternoon, and was presented with the video for "Can't Keep Checking My Phone." This video struck a different chord than all of the others, though the videos before it certainly entertained and puzzled me. However, the thoughtfulness portrayed in the direction of "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" was captivating.

I literally began to check my phone periodically throughout the video as various terms flashed briefly on screen amid a scene that appeared to represent them. In this list, I will break down the meaning of each of the twenty terms used in the video, and will conclude with my theory on the overall aim of the video as a whole in relation to the song. Before reading on, make sure to check out the video:

1. Malignant Hum

A malignant hum is an irritating low-frequency noise which has plagued some people. The concept of it has been around since the 1950's and I'm sure just the thought of hearing it without cause or warning would annoy most of us.

2. Capgras Syndrome

This is the irrational belief that someone, specifically someone you are familiar with, has been replaced by an undetectable imposter. They look the same, but they are not really the person they appear. A frightening proposition, and one that is sure to lead to complete madness. Who can you trust?

3. Stendhal Syndrome

Stendhal Syndrome is a condition which causes you to experience dizziness, rapid heartbeat, fainting, and hallucinations when the affected person is exposed to an incredibly significant personal experience. This is often linked to viewing art. Perhaps, an uncontrollable LSD trip anytime you look at a beautiful painting. Yikes.

4. Temporal Lobe Therapy

Temporal Lobe Therapy is also known as Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) and is a treatment for Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). The therapy involves sending regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain through the vagus nerve in the neck. The stimulator device is placed under the skin in the chest, and a wire runs up to the brain, passing the vagus nerve. This device helps prevent seizures in people diagnosed with TLE.

Oddly enough, TLE is a form of partial epilepsy which relates unusually to the first few terms mentioned in the video. According to, TLE includes "a mixture of different feelings, emotions, thoughts, and experiences, which may be familiar or completely foreign. In some cases, a series of old memories resurfaces. In others, the person may feel as if everything – including home and family – appears strange. Hallucinations of voices, music, people, smells, or tastes may occur." It is an interesting connection that this disorder includes hallucinations, feelings of familiar people appearing strange, and imagining sounds, much like the terms of "Malignant Hum," "Capgras Syndrome" and "Stendhal Syndrome."

5. Abduction

This one is plainly described - Abduction is the occurrence of someone being taken by something or someone else and disappearing. The term is commonly associated with aliens, as well as kidnapping.

6. Meteorite Sickness

This disease was associated with a meteorite that struck Peru in 2007, leading to multiple cases of its crater's visitors complaining of headaches and nausea. The mysterious illness was eventually attributed to the inhalation of arsenic fumes, thrown up by the hot meteor on impact with underground arsenic-tainted water.

7. Panphobia

Panphobia is the vague and persistent dread of an unknown evil. Basically, it is just constant fear of something that you can't actually sense, but to people who have the phobia, it is just there. It recalls the "Jaws" theme music in my mind - da dum... da dum....

8. Coup D'etat

An interesting tangent from the former conditions, a Coup D'etat occurs when a small group attempts to overthrow a government. Video game fans may remember the introductory mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was titled with this term, as the terrorists overthrew their country's government in the game, killing their president. It is hard to say how this term lines up with the rest.

9. Rapture

The supposed Rapture of some sects of Christianity is the supposedly predicted event in which God will lift all deserving believers, living and dead, into the sky and into Heaven, as the world ends.

10. Fool's Gold

Pyrite, a sulfide mineral, earned the nickname "Fool's Gold" because it looks strikingly similar to real gold superficially. Aside from a possible connection to the beginning of the video in which two characters examine a stone of some sort which could be pyrite (though it doesn't look like it and is hard to tell in black and white film), I am unsure as to how this fits with the theme of odd sicknesses and phenomena.

11. Cryptozoology

Cryptozoology is the study of mythological animals such as the Lochness Monster, Bigfoot, and Chupacabras. It is considered pseudoscience and its aim is to prove the existence of animals like these, though the subjects considered in this category have no real substantial evidence behind their existence.

12. Altered States

Being in an altered state in this sense (no pun intended) is in relation to being in sensory deprivation tanks. These tanks are soundproof and pitch dark, containing salt water at skin temperature in which the person floats. The result of floating in a tank of this kind is that you are completely deprived of your senses of touch, hearing and sight. These tanks have had various uses since their invention, both positive and negative. They have been used as instruments of torture, as well as therapeutic devices for people with anxiety. There are, currently, many locations which offer time in one of these tanks as a spa treatment.

13. Kepler 438-b

A potentially habitable planet which is 470 light years from earth, and is very similar to Earth in its size and form. It is likely rocky, and receives about 1.4 times the solar flux of Earth. It sits in the constellation Lyra, and orbits a red dwarf star. Once again, this seems to branch off from the pattern of syndromes and phenomena.

14. Precarious Planet

Following Kepler 438-b, this term confused me the most. It doesn't seem to relate to any specific definition other than the idea of a planet having the quality of being precarious. The word "precarious" can be defined as not securely held in place, dependent on chance, or uncertain. The clip in the video with this phrase shows a nude woman crouched behind a large rock, attempting to peer around it cautiously, seemingly afraid to move from her position.

This phrase could be connected to its predecessor, Kepler 438-b, and suggest that any hopes of finding habitable planets similar to Earth requires caution. It could also refer to our own planet, suggesting the idea that Earth hangs in a state of precariousness, never far off from destruction at the hands of natural and man-made phenomena.

15. Divine Intervention

The idea of Divine Intervention refers to a sort of miracle resulting from a God's active involvement in the natural world. This could be used in cases like someone surviving a deadly car crash - rather than luck, it was a miracle based on divine intervention. Overall, a god or many gods actively sway the outcomes of natural events as they choose.

16. Restless Legs Syndrome

This condition causes the affected to feel the strong urge to move their legs. It also usually includes feelings of creeping in the feet, thighs and calves, and can be incredibly irritable, particularly at night.

17. Echopraxia

Echopraxia is the involuntary repetition or imitation of another's actions. It is a phenomenon which is in a group known as echophenomena, which all relate to the involuntary repetition of actions. The use of this in the video was interesting, as it showed four people bowing simultaneously. This may be relating the phenomenon to the idea of social control, in which people may succumb to certain actions simply because others do. This can lead to the easier subjugation of groups of people, because they are wired to move with the crowd.

18. Therianthropy

A fine addition to the list, this term is the name for the mythological ability of humans who can shape-shift into animals. A common example is a werewolf.

19. Hybristophilia

This is another odd one, as it is the experience of sexual arousal which occurs when watching a partner commit an act of violence.

20. Virtual Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a state in which someone feels that they identify with a gender that differs from their assigned sex at birth. A recent experiment performed using the innovations in virtual reality technology has aimed to study how people experience Gender Dysphoria when virtually inhabiting a body opposite their own sex. It is an odd feeling for many of the subjects, especially seeing themselves in a virtual mirror as a different person but not quite being able to feel that transformation. It is certainly something difficult for many to wrap their brains around.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra's music video for their song "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" is a complex puzzle. These 20 terms portrayed throughout the short film are related in some ways, and very unrelated in others. My general sense of the aim of these terms being used in the various scenes was to show a snapshot of the feeling elucidated by each. The few seconds of footage connected to each term displayed the utter fear, helplessness or uncertainty brought about be each disorder or phenomenon. While there were a few outliers, such as the two planet terms and "abduction," they mostly connected in their negative, even frightening effects.

The common theory behind the meaning of the song's lyrics themselves has to do with the singer's unusual relationship with a second woman who joined he and his wife for awhile in a sexual tryst of sorts.

He found himself constantly checking his phone for messages from this other woman. cites a report from Pitchfork who did a feature on UMO's album containing this song, which said "'Can’t Keep Checking My Phone' is about Ruban [the singer] and Jenny [his wife] 'pin[ing] for Laura as she worked on a project in the Peruvian rainforest, while also trying to carry on with their lives..." This shows another connection to one of the terms, because the meteorite mentioned in "meteorite sickness" landed in Peru. Perhaps the overall theme of the song is connecting their struggle to "carry on with their lives" as a sort of disorder, much like many of the terms mentioned in the video.

It is one that could be defined as the state in which they struggle to lead their own lives without constant contact from their polyamorous partner.

This is just a theory, of course, but I believe it has a pretty strong basis through the evaluation of the connections between the song's theme and the video's use of terms. I am so happy to have discovered a band with song's as intriguing and well-crafted as this, and I will continue to delve into their music further. Though this song has been out for a few years, I have only just now discovered it, and that is one of the beauties of musical discovery. For anyone reading this who has also now discovered because of this article, I hope that you join me in diving deeper into the musical exploits of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and keep an open mind moving forward for any new artists you come across.

Happy listening.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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