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Simian Mobile Disco - Murmurations Music Album Reviews

Simian Mobile Disco - Murmurations Music Album Reviews
Simian Mobile Disco team up with all-female singing collective Deep Throat Choir for an adventurous full-length that is their first album to prominently feature vocals in nearly a decade.

Over the last decade, Simian Mobile Disco have charted a singular career by relying almost solely on their own creative impulses. Despite rising to prominence amid the “bloghouse” fad of the mid-2000s, the duo of James Ford and Jas Shaw has remained largely unconcerned with passing trends in electronic music. Their fifth full-length, Murmurations, is a bit of a paradox: It’s easily the most adventurous album they’ve crafted to date. But it also takes the act full circle, connecting their bloghouse-era output with their more abstruse later career.

The album is Simian Mobile Disco’s first to prominently feature vocals since 2009’s Temporary Pleasure, which spotlighted singers like Beth Ditto and Yeasayer’s Chris Keating. But Ford and Shaw abandon their old guest-vocalist approach on Murmurations, collaborating instead with Deep Throat Choir, an all-female singing collective led by British musician Luisa Gerstein. You’ve likely heard Gerstein’s work without knowing it: “Cups,” her a cappella reimagining of the Carter Family's 1931 song “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?,” became a top-10 hit for Anna Kendrick after the actress performed it in Pitch Perfect. Along with Heloise Tunstall-Behrens, her bandmate in the psych-rock act Landshapes, Gerstein has songwriting credits on nearly half of the album.

The music on Murmurations isn't nearly as chart-friendly as “Cups,” and that’s for the best. Together, Simian Mobile Disco and Deep Throat Choir craft a hallucinatory sonic world: Vocal swells crest and crash against Ford and Shaw’s signature tick-tock techno. The combination is dreamlike—and sometimes even a bit nightmarish; this is certainly not “easy listening.” Like a virtual-reality headset, the 3D textures of Deep Throat Choir’s echo-laden exultations, layered atop Ford and Shaw’s rabbit-hole rhythms, might make listeners queasy at first. But once you surrender to the album’s off-kilter vibe, it's easy to lose yourself in it.

As is the case with so much art released in the past 18 months, it’s possible to read vague messages of resistance into the lyrics of Murmurations. On “Defender,” for instance, trippy sighs give way to a thrush of timpani rolls and glassy synths, as the Choir issue a chest-beating warning: “I see that you couldn’t care less/Don’t you know I’m a warrior.” But the album’s wordless moments prove just as engaging, from the electric frissons that course through ambient clouds on “Gliders” to the zero-gravity weightlessness of “Murmuration.”

Although they consistently put on a riveting live show, Ford and Shaw’s recordings haven’t always hit the mark in the past. Since Temporary Pleasure, they’ve composed in two modes—steely techno and studio-sound experimentation—adding new flourishes but rarely making those disparate aesthetics cohere. Their latest album marks a career high because it sees them and Deep Throat Choir successfully fusing the halves of Simian Mobile Disco’s sound into one powerful whole. On her stellar LPs Quarantine and Dust, Laurel Halo explored the many ways the human voice can be abstracted within electronic music, and a similar sense of playful inquiry suffuses even the most intense moments on Murmurations.

Earlier this year, Shaw was diagnosed with the rare disease AL amyloidosis. As of early May, his prognosis was still unclear, but the illness has already caused the duo to cancel a planned American tour. A recent interview revealed that their post-Murmurations future is up in the air. Since their bloghouse days, Ford and Shaw have been rewarding those who seek out their trend-agnostic music with sounds that are novel and enjoyable even when they don’t add up to something greater than the sum of their parts. But Murmurations represents a breakthrough. It’s thrilling to imagine where Simian Mobile Disco might go next; here’s hoping they get the chance.

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