Review : Simian Mobile Disco - Unpatterns
PopmattersThere’s a semantic efficiency in the name Simian Mobile Disco that I’ve always liked. A derivative of the DJ duo’s old band, Simian, alongside whom they used to spin on tour before spinning off on their own, these three words in tandem express wastelessly exactly what it is James Ford and Jason Shaw have been doing over the course of three albums and many remixes. From back to front: ‘disco’ is their pledge not to deviate from insistent four-on-the-floor rhythms, and they never do; ‘mobile’ prioritizes both live performance and angular cell phone sonics; and ‘simian,’ regardless of what it may have meant for Simian, signals the sweaty, primitive, instinctual state it’s all meant to solicit.
Their albums have followed similar function-first logic. Attack Decay Sustain Release, pun aside, marked their triumphant emergence from the buzzing blogosphere with ten lean, mean bangers, the best and most popular of which—including “It’s the Beat” and “Hustler”—were named after their terse, relentless, and stunningly effective hooks. Then came Temporary Pleasure with ten more that were neither as lean nor as mean, but that boasted an enviable collaborative roster to help make up the difference. They nearly did. Or at least “Audacity of Huge”, on which Yeasayer’s Chris Keating cheekily lamented conspicuous consumption’s empty yields, nearly did. But “Huge” was a brilliant fluke. The album’s remainder gelled into New Traditionalists-era synthpop that was fully functional but rarely very inspired.
Now there’s Unpatterns, which forgoes fancy collaborations for another source of indie cache: longform mopey drones. In place of the party-starters of Attack and Pleasure are nine party-enders, beat-driven as always but less propulsive than hypnotic. The name may have something to do with the album’s tendency to coax poorly matched loops into elegant coherence, and since this is clearly meant as headphones music—Ford and Shaw have called Unpatterns their “psychedelic” turn—that attention to structural integrity might be some formalist interest. Yet at the same time, it also clarifies all too well the album’s general monotony – of mood, of sound, of everything....full text
GuardianJas Shaw and James Ford have what might be called "portfolio careers". They produce, they engineer, they DJ and, as Simian Mobile Disco, they record. Their experience has earned them great technical expertise and produced a magpie-like output. Over the course of three albums SMD have shifted tack with each piece; first electro, then electropop and now minimal techno. In this last guise, the duo appear to have found a form that suits them. A lot of time has been spent on this record, and it shows: every tone has the clarity of applied refinement. This lends the album a degree of beauty, one reinforced by the delicacy of the songs' composition. It is also, however, one step removed from club music. The most danceable tracks are the simplest – Interference and Your Love Ain't Fair – but the rest is music in which to lose your thoughts, rather than your T-shirt....full text
TinymixtapesMy favorite Simian Mobile Disco track just so happens to be the one considered by many critics and fans alike to be among the group’s worst. Yeah, I’m talking about Temporary Pleasure’s “Audacity of Huge:” a bone-stupid, frothy glass of electro-pop bravado whose notable traits include, among others, Yeasayer’s Chris Keating rap-singing about chilling in a “double dutch dinosaur duplex” with the sultan of Brunei with a steady supply of “Bill Murray,” and a constant, mildly-annoying sample that sounds like a demonic Cookie Monster being tickled. Fans of the band’s more earlier, sinister (and Keating-less) sounds will take one listen to “Audacity of Huge,” wince, and launch into a tirade on why Temporary Pleasure sucked: it was too poppy, they say; too much Beth Ditto and not enough moody synths. Others, like myself, spin that LP on a regular basis; banality is bearable, provided that there’s enough bass.
So you’d think James Ford and Jad Shaw would take the predictable route with their latest record, Unpatterns: Go back to the dark, crystalline grooves of Attack Decay Sustain Release, maybe throw in a few birdbrained bangers for candy-craving critics like myself. Well, they didn’t. And depending on how you like your electronica, the following pieces of information will either make you smile or sigh.
Unpatterns contains little in the way of vocals; all but four of the nine tracks are instrumentals, and there are no Chris Keating guest spots here, just vintage samples. If you’re looking for hints of the twitchy, stomping house that permeated the duo’s first two records, you’re also out of luck; 90s minimalism reigns supreme here. But it also contains some of the most mature, atmospheric music we’ve heard from sirs Ford and Shaw — and, periodically, some monstrous grooves pierce through the ambient haze....full text
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