Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: Wichita
Genre(s): Electronic, House, Club/Dance
Unpatterns comes across as a reaction to Simian Mobile Disco's previous two full-length releases. Temporary Pleasure (2009) featured a series of guest vocalists over productions that were largely busy and bright. Delicacies (2010) compiled alternately nutty and stern tracks that resembled a soundclash between the Perlon and 240 Volts labels circa 2003.
It's been three years since the release of Simian Mobile Disco's much-derided second album, Temporary Pleasures. James Ford and Jas Shaw were upbraided for an over-reliance on star names and spreading them over an unholy mish-mash of styles. Frankly, everyone involved sounded bored and uninspired. The irony was that Ford was making a great success of producing albums for indie heroes like Arctic Monkeys.
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 yetIn 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.
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO play the Hoxton July 12. See listing. Rating: NNNN When Simian Mobile Disco emerged out of the ashes of Simian, their former indie pop incarnation, in 2005, they seemed the epitome of the hipster dance/rock crossover act. For a while it looked like they were trying to move to the more pop end of that spectrum, with lots of high-profile guest vocalists and big, radio-friendly melodies.
Simian Mobile Disco circa 2012 are the cooler older brother of Simian Mobile Disco circa 2007. Young SMD were the arm-waving, attention-grabbing, shouty teenager, upping their ‘friends on Facebook’ count with their crossover appeal on debut album ‘Attack Decay Sustain Release’. They continued to plough the hipster-glitch into second album ‘Temporary Pleasure’, with a string of indie-vocalists (Beth Ditto, Gruff Rhys, Alexis Hot Chip), guaranteeing them middle-ground radio airplay and festival crowds.Grown-up SMD, however, are an altogether different prospect.
Given their involvement in 2006's premier brainworm, Justice vs Simian's 'We Are Your Friends' – an anthem equally redolent of lovely people having a great time and wankers being dicks, and the kind of runaway track that could not have been more potentially stultifying for its makers – Simian Mobile Disco's catalogue of persistently inventive club records has been one of the revelations of Noughties dance music. But where each of the duo's past LPs has explored a different sonic avenue to its predecessor, Unpatterns feels like less of a discrete instalment in a collection and more an accomplished blend of the two things James Ford and Jas Shaw do best – gigantic, open-armed, open-air pop, and femur-fracturing analogue techno. Unpatterns' promo blurb deems it to have 'none of the poppiness of Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release.
Jas 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.
Grand expectations often lead to disappointment. But with Simian Mobile Disco, having high hopes isn’t exactly out of order. As a follow-up to 2010’s sinister compilation Delicacies, Unpatterns stands decidedly in a shadow. The repulsive glory that was the video to “Sweetbread” may never again be attained, but that’s not an excuse for the pallid “Seraphim” as this album’s single.
The middle ground is dangerous territory when it comes to dance music. Simian Mobile Disco have existed there, uneasily, for over five years now. Making things difficult for themselves, SMD try to borrow from both ends of the spectrum without ever fully embracing lowbrow or highbrow, all-grins fun or fearsomely precise grooves. 2007's debut, Attack Decay Sustain Release, is their only album to really tackle the combination head-on, and probably not so coincidentally, it's also still their best.
My 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.
There’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.
After the all-around letdown of 2009's Temporary Pleasure, in which Simian Mobile Disco allowed Beth Ditto, Jamie Lidell and Alexis Taylor to mess with their character-driven techno sound, the London duo rebounded in 2010 with the back-to-basics Delicacies. For their fourth-LP, Simian Mobile Disco lose some of the tininess and robot leanings of Delicacies while keeping their love of Detroit and Chicago electro loud and proud. For their second straight LP of all-instrumentals, the London duo make better use of their tracks' six- and seven-minute running times, giving numbers like "Seraphim" and "Put Your Hands Together" multiple dimensions via big, beefy, diva-tinged vocal samples.
A deep, well-crafted dance manifesto by two talented producers. Matthew Bennett 2012 Dance producers get lonely. It’s an occupational hazard, hence why they love a sensationalist and well-heeled vocal collaboration. James Ford and Jas Shaw, aka Simian Mobile Disco, have become pretty adept at this bit of business over the years.
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.