Review Summary: With Unpatterns, Simian Mobile Disco have finally begun to sound like a cohesive outfit again, and with that comfort comes perhaps their best outing yet
In a perfect world would Simian Mobile Disco be labeled as innovative or adaptable, sadly down here in the real world do we find James Ford and Jas Shaw’s career trajectory as somewhat lacking. Perhaps they were just as surprised as we were when their debut quickly became the little album that could, though their crunchy hook-laden electro couldn’t have come at a more profitable time. To say that the timely release of that album was right on the money is to only heighten the ambivalence felt when they followed it up with the synthpop-laden NME-baiting Temporary Pleasure
. Perhaps they sensed that they had pushed their particular electro envelope as far as they could; or, perhaps sensing the change in the winds, did they decide to jettison their allegiance before the great shift occurred. Delicacies
saw them branching out even further, the group now using the European minimal techno scene as a cornerstone; once more were the duo coyly batting an eyelid to not just former glories but their fanbase as well, who as fickle and ephemeral as their genre of choice were quickly losing interest in reclaiming old territory.
As a fan it becomes exceedingly difficult to remain poker-faced in the light of such diversity, especially when the unfamiliar seems far from calculated. Maybe because we’re then unable to judge what happens next until that moment has been and gone, or perhaps because it allows us to render judgment on the intentions of the group in question. Whatever the results it still makes for interesting listening, even if we do end up habitually crossing our fingers at being left out in the cold. SMD have always been a trepidatious experience and perhaps they’ve finally noticed the growing distance between artist and audience, or perhaps rather simply, they’ve finally found a guise that suits them, for Unpatterns
, rather discreetly and surprisingly, ends up following in much the same vein as Delicacies
, simply trading in the rigid and cold uniformity for a softer and more melodious side.
The comfort with which SMD seem to find themselves indulging in now becomes one also shared with its audience, partly because we’re finally able to recognize a progression in the duo, a tightening of the bolts so to speak. Unpatterns
still continues the group’s trend of unbalancing certain genre stereotypes, not so much re-imagining them but simply roughing them up a little bit. While lighter on the senses that its predecessor, the album is still wild and loose, filled with urgency and a devil may care attitude. From a cautious viewpoint, Unpatterns
exists mostly as a collection of suitably sinister and mysterious house odysseys, strung out and bent. It’s certainly a less insistent and in-your-face release as its predecessor; the album’s charm instead lies within its ominous undercurrent, its anxious and afflicted mystique. Vocals again play a central role in the duo’s makeup, here they’re just as relevant yet the results are far less obvious. The twisted mantras of ‘Your Love Ain’t Fair’ and ‘I Waited For You’ take on a somber almost lumbering presence, in stark opposition to the restless and vitriolic beats they lay their bones over.
Much like the faceless ghosts that SMD have chosen to document, the duo tweak and twist their sound into strange and uncharted (for them) territory. Not so much another example of a genre shift, but the allure of Unpatterns
now resides almost purely in dichotomy. Melodies become unsettling and insecure, the structure is ramshackle and fragile, now lurid rather than lucid. It’s a house album in name only, the album’s true intent seems to be an inverse of the genre’s current popularity – a negative of the snapshot of dance music in 2012. The forceful and looming shadow that plays havoc to the almost anthemic quality of the music here skews the group’s common practice of big and bold centerpieces; instead of falling back on a pastiche of interlocking parts, Unpatterns
ends up feeling like the duo’s most cohesive and fully-formed outing yet. The nu-disco swing of ‘Seraphim’ with its sad siren blues recalls John Talabot’s peaking late-afternoon sun worship, ‘Cerulean’ touches on the organic and orchestral textures of Four Tet before dropping into a sea of bubbling and spacious bass reverb. Then there’s the hiss-click 8-bit mystery of ‘The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife’ that keeps its grasp with certainty and structure at a distance; everything here only highlights SMD’s desire to not move on but to move forward
works because of its shy, almost reclusive nature; it doesn’t attempt to hold court with chart presence, nor does it end up being another showcase for the future indie darlings of the BBC. It’s a no nonsense, unfiltered look at a virtuosic group finally at peace with their chosen profession; a group who has done the big radio thing, found solid ground, and are now ready to tumble down the rabbit hole. SMD’s latest is an exploration not just in sound, but in concept; it feels like a defining statement, not just for them but for dance music in general. It pulls back the curtain another fraction on the latest UK zeitgeist by almost not being a part of it at all. Invest some time in Unpatterns
, it’s well worth the journey.