The story is very well-known. Simian was a regular pop-folk band with an electronic air that decided to split up in 2005, after having released a couple of rather uneventful albums on Source. Seduced by the techno-rock-rave crossover being made by Soulwax, Justice and company at the time, two of the members of the original quartet (keyboard player James Shaw and drummer James Ford) decided to create the spin-off Simian Mobile Disco. Then, (and we imagine, to the despair of their former band mates), the duo really started to take off thanks to “We Are Your Friends”- the remix that the previously-mentioned group Justice did of their “Never Be Alone”. With a starting point like this – not forgetting that the track put out with the French group is seared into the memory of an entire generation, it’s one of those hits that make careers for life - SMD have become one of those classic bands that assure mayhem - with people really cutting loose - at any festival or town celebration worth its salt.
In tune with the festive, unprejudiced attitude that has always characterised them, their first album, “Attack Release Sustain Release”, was loaded down with pop-format bangers (the kind that rarely last longer than three minutes) - to the greater glory of that wave of bands that were operating on the margins of the repulsive nu rave. “Temporary Pleasure”, their second LP effort, was a first somewhat failed attempt to distance themselves from the wake of the disciples of Daft Punk. They called in a handful of big-name collaborators (Jamie Lidell, Beth Ditto, Gruff Rhys and Alexis Taylor, from Hot Chip, had a hand in some of the songs on the album) that served as a hook to catch the public’s attention. Three years later, after travelling around the world bursting eardrums by sweeping filters, the mobile disco is back with a third LP that has made some changes in the formula.
One of the first surprises in this “Unpatterns” is the lengthening of the majority of the songs. Although not coming close to the lengths offered by Villalobos and company, the abundance of tracks lasting longer than five minutes give us a sense of a distancing from the song format and a certain tendency towards favouring structures that are closer to techno and house. It is in line with the series of dance-floor tracks that came out on “Delicacies” (2010), confirming that it wasn’t just a whim. So, songs like “Cerulean” and “A Species Out Of Control” keep up a constant 4x4 beat over which SMD weave melodies with arpeggios that remind one of the elegant electro-house of early Booka Shade. At the same tech-house wavelength are other less elegant tracks like the thuggish “Interference” – with those slutty synthesizers whistling – or the unnecessarily noisy “Paredolia”, an overly epic closing where Simian Mobile Disco seem obsessed with showing that they can fill up stadiums just like Paul Kalkbrenner.
The drunken moments with your arms up in the air are the weakest of its repertoire. But “Unpatterns” has some less overdone tracks where the duo showcase an analogue sound —the enormous modular synthesizer bleeps that adorn “The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife” – and they prove that they can also get the masses dancing without having to get a Skrillex hairdo. In this line, for example, we find moments that hark back to the best of 90s dance music; an influence that one notices in the fanfare of “Seraphim”, or in the mix of old-school-rave-meets-New-Jersey on the excellent “Your Love Ain’t Fair”. It is this type of song (one of the ones most clearly inspired by disco, by the way) that allow us to dream of a future work from Simian Mobile Disco in which the couple will learn to forget about the excessively epic quality of their beginnings and dedicate themselves to just making great electronic dance music. Who knows, maybe next time?