Simian Mobile Disco – Unpatterns (Album Review)

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It often is the third release that truly defines a musician. After the sophomore conundrum often faced by artists, of repetition of successful debut formula vs the risk of alienating acquired fans by venturing into unexpected territory, the third album is a statement of freedom. After all, by beating the odds to reach this stage of musical careers, and with plenty of fans already on board, your audience can finally be subjected to whatever you please without the apprehensions of needing to live up to expectations.

The latest release from Jas Shaw and James Ford, together making up Simian Mobile Disco, continues the chain of progression from the festival tent electro of ‘Attack Decay Sustain Release’; the more pop-tinged  ‘Temporary Pleasure’, to a much more minimalistic, and significantly darker, beast.

Opening track ‘I Waited For You’ opens reminiscent of a spaceship preparing for lift-off: a motif that will continue to loom throughout the album. It is perhaps the most conventional track, building and progressing naturally and merely hinting at the discomfort and darkness to follow. This darkness is better foreshadowed and explored in ‘Cerulean’, opening with frenetic retro-bleeps that would not be out of place on a 32-bit video game, before morphing into an uncompromising beast of a song. The analogue recording practices bring life to the track, but in no way is this human: ‘Cerulean’ takes on an alien life-form of its own, polished and progressive.

This outlandish quality is present on the aptly titled, ‘A Species Out Of Control’, too, which is undoubtedly the strongest track on ‘Unpatterns’. The track is reminiscent of the three-act life of the nightclub, from the initial build-up, to the full-capacity unity, and the eventual fall and silencing. Yet, it sounds so utterly terrifying and alien; the unpredictable beats and chimes hinting that something is not quite right with the mechanics, paralleling the altogether discomforting notion of the short life of a night out. The strong sense of uncanny it evokes, and its parasitic groove, make it sound utterly, terrifyingly brilliant.

The equilibrium is restored momentarily by ‘Interference’, but the track is similarly unsettling, and equally extra-terrestrial. Imagine being abducted one night and taken on a guided tour of a sprawling alien spacecraft, and you’ve pretty much got the idea.

It is, unfortunately, at this point that the album begins to lose some of its steam. On the strength of the first five tracks alone, ‘Unpatterns’ is right up there with the best 2012 has to offer, and Simian Mobile Disco have something of a masterpiece in the bag. But the final four tracks are unfortunately forgettable, with the vocals of ‘Put Your Hands Together’ removing some of the legitimacy from the release. It sounds like a safe song, and whilst many will praise the track for its utilisation of classic vocals, it does not seem at home or consistent with the rest of the album. Whereas the female vocals of lead single Seraphim are distant and dreamy, ‘Put Your Hands Together’ is somewhat clichéd in its delivery. The tracks that conclude the album are disappointingly unmemorable, too.

‘Unpatterns’ sees Simian Mobile Disco make a progressive yet expected shift in sound, creating an album that will be more at home in the darkness of the bedroom, and listened to with earphones, rather than the dance floors of nightclubs or the tents of festivals. Although it is exceedingly top-heavy, with its anti-climactic and forgettable conclusion, the first five tracks warrant the album a listen alone.

So turn the lights off, shut your eyes, and prepare to be transported into an unfamiliar, alien world.

Ryan Casey

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