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Simian Mobile Disco
Whorl Danny Riley , September 24th, 2014 16:53

Daniel Avery may have roused popular interest for more acidic shades of house and techno, but on Whorl Simian Mobile Disco have gone the whole hog, grafting full-blown kosmische onto cranky electronic beats. Over the album's twelve tracks they try to cover everything this entails, from ear-caressing analogue tone poems to sleek kinetic bangers and growling slow-builders. When it's good, it's really good – the sheer textural variation, the deft juxtaposition of soft and hard and the playful manipulation of machinery on the album's better tracks are a sheer joy to listen to. It feels all the more impressive when you take into account that the veteran duo of James Ford and Jaz Shaw recorded the album live, eschewing the aid of computers and limiting themselves to one modular synth and sequencer each. Yet whilst this notion of innovation by self-limitation is commendable, it's SMD's overstated attempt to take the listener on a journey that is the album's drawback. In the end Whorl feels overlong, and the excitement and variation of the first two thirds of the album eventually dissipates into a somnolent slog.

There is, however, plenty to enjoy in the first two thirds of the album. It should be noted that there's not even a hint of a kick drum until halfway through the album's third track – Whorl is a definite move further away from SMD's ravey roots and the pop structures of Temporary Pleasure, and the ambient moments here are some of the most rewarding. Listeners may detect elements of the softcore prog of Sensations Fix, the cerebral quirks of Cluster or the enveloping deepspace warmth of vintage Vangelis and Tangerine Dream on tracks like 'Redshift', 'Dandelion Spheres' and 'Sundog', yet none of this seems to feel annoyingly retro-futurist. Actually, it's pure fucking ear-candy. When the beats do kick in halfway through 'Sundog', it's in the most caressing of ways: skittering hi-hats float in under a meandering synth-string melody, insistent beats are gradually introduced and underpinned by spongey bass patterns. 'Hypnik Jerk' brings the pace up slightly by introducing a tangible sense of dread, with its grandiose, anxiety-inducing builds and staid, wearied breakdowns. Archaic-sounding drum machines are offset by lush pads and thought-destroying splurges of squall and at this stage of the album the track's worrisome, end-of-the-night feeling is the perfect preparation for the album's first banger: the mighty 'Dervish', resplendent with Doppler effect bass growls and jackhammer arpeggiator.

Another sequencing success happens over the next three tracks. 'Z Space', with its inviting bubblebath of billowy analogue drones setting the stage nicely for the unease-infused 'Nazard', whose staccato stabs would be better suited to pinging around the walls of an art gallery than a sweaty basement or festival tent. Banger number two then arrives in the form of 'Calyx'; a serene Kraftwerkian glide with fruity sequences and synths infused with the latent jazziness of Detroit techno. It's got that excellent combination of a slow build in the rhythm and rich, dopamine-releasing cadences on the melodic side of things, and I'd happily have the album end there.

Obviously it doesn't, and the tracks that follow suffer from a paucity of textural and rhythmic interest that characterised Whorl's preceding material. 'Jam Side Up' is agreeable enough – a mid-paced minimal groover with a twinkly refrain. 'Tangents' however, relies on mere bombast, with its epic synth riffs sadly coming off as a bit turgid. The tranquiliser-impaired lurch of 'Iron Henge' and the creepy, campy keyboard melodies of closer 'Casiopeia' go some way to redress this nagging sense of staleness but the pleasures of the album's earlier tracks feel somewhat tainted by its drawn-out denouement. What Simian Mobile Disco have proved on this album is that they can churn out rigid groove-monsters and cosmic interludes with equal flare. Let's hope that if they attempt a similar project in future they'll focus as much on the editing as the jamming. 

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