The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Simian Mobile Disco
Unpatterns Simon Garner , May 17th, 2012 08:06

Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and Jas Shaw followed their debut’s success by riding the crest of that particular stylistic wave headlong into heavy-duty collaboration vehicle Temporary Pleasures. That album’s ‘sound’ was right on the money too, bringing together Gruff Rhys, Beth Ditto, Alexis Taylor, Jamie Lidell and one of Yeasayer to form an indomitable indie-dance super panoply. The results were underwhelming then, and, listening back, seem particularly lightweight now. The problem with nailing a zeitgeist is that it’s inherently ephemeral. To their credit, apparently sensing this, 2010's follow up Delicacies - a compilation of tracks from a series of 12"s - wrong-footed everyone by being an album of enjoyably hard techno, serving as a fan sorting/alienating device.

So, forgive my trepidation when the press release states that its follow-up is an album ‘completely of the now.’ Then imagine my joy at finding that although yes, it is another genre metamorphosis, it’s nowhere near a who’s who of the NME’s future Cool List 2013. Gone, thankfully, are the big name vocal collaborations, and their first couple of albums' once de-rigeur electro skronk. Unpatterns softens the strict techno formalism of Delicacies, remaining dark and taut, if not quite so coldly rigid.

For the most part, Unpatterns is slightly sinister, stretched out, anxious, fidgety house. Slow, ominous beats roll along beneath the sad soul of ‘I Waited for You’ and ‘Your Love Ain’t Fair’. The first elongates the vocals to the edges of intelligibility; the latter melts both halves of the refrain together into an indistinguishable – “your love ain’t fair / your loving girl.” The duo twist their signature sound – dissolving synths, bubbling melodies, off kilter beats – in new and murky directions. Reference points are noticeable, but impeccable. ‘Interference’ is Laurent Garnier-esque, the mournful brass of ‘Seraphim’ recalls Blockhead’s Music by Cavelight, ‘Cerulean’s chime cycles are reminiscent of Four Tet. ‘Flash’ by Green Velvet is a constant, looming presence. As with the vocals, these influences are woven into the fabric of the sound, not transplanted but abstracted, distorted.

Still, it moves along at a fair old clip. ‘A Species Out of Control’s morse code siren and the fizzes and pops of ‘Pareidolia’ lend an injection of a nervous energy. ‘Put Your Hands Together’s vocal refrain is almost threateningly insistent, with unsettling wails rising all around. Tracks – longer, unadorned by guest vocalists – are given room to smother the listener. The production toys with space, where curiously anechonic elements fade into blurry reverb.

Unpatterns forgoes any of their previous chart intentions. Instead Simian Mobile Disco have crafted an album that at times verges on bold understatement. With it, Ford and Shaw have channelled their chameleon-like ability to adapt and evidently encyclopaedic knowledge of dance into music that’s far less chained to the zeitgeist than before. Sure, it’s still tightly connected to current dancefloor trends – somehow it’s unsurprising that, at a time when house is recolonising the UK underground’s clubs, they’ve made a house album – but it marks a subtle step forward into their own space. Perhaps they’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to find lasting relevance is just to ignore the background noise.