AU58: Simian Mobile Disco album review

July 1, 2009

SMD album


Simian Mobile Disco’s debut album Attack Decay Sustain Release was a lot of fun, but often in the same way that Big Macs are enjoyable – a taste sensation as long as they are around, but not a satisfactory meal. Two years on, the likes of ‘Sleep Deprivation’ and especially ‘I Believe’ stand up better than Ritalin rave-ups like ‘Hotdog’ and ‘Tits And Acid’, and it’s not just us that feel that way. It turns out that those first two songs were the last ones written for the first album, and James Ford and Jas Shaw have mostly continued in that satisfyingly restrained vein on album number two.

They admit themselves that they have become bored of the electro arms race, as producers find new and more obnoxious ways to give you a headache, turning towards the more refined charms of techno and Italo disco while simultaneously embracing songcraft. Ford and Shaw’s startingly successful last couple of years – both as SMD and working with acts including Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons, Peaches and Florence and the Machine – have seen them build up an impressive black book of contacts, and it’s been used to the fullest here, as they coax Beth Ditto, Gruff Rhys, Jamie Lidell, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and Edinburgh hip-hop trio Young Fathers into their London studio, with Yeasayer’s Chris Keating and avant-pop duo Telepathe emailing contributions from New York.

Keating’s contribution on the single ‘Audacity Of Huge’ is, perhaps surprisingly, the highlight. It marries a bouncy-ball beat to a joyously nonsensical lyric that mentions everything and everyone from Mama Cass and the Sultan of Brunei to floor-cleaning robots, and somehow comes up with an emotionally resonant chorus to go with it – “I got it all, so why don’t I get you?”. Keating is clearly some kind of alchemical genius. Another triumph comes from Beth Ditto, who showcases her seldom-seen sensitive side on the lovelorn ‘Cruel Intentions’, while Gruff Rhys does his weirdy beardy, psychedelic thing on the luxurious album opener ‘Cream Dream’. The reining-in of the first album’s noisy electro is, by the way, not at the cost of danceability – 80% of this record will go off in clubs, particularly the soulful ‘Synthesise’ and sweaty instrumentals ‘10000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong’ and ‘Ambulance’.

Unavoidably for an album of so many voices, though, not everything works, and the Young Fathers track in particular misses the mark by some distance, while the Alexis Taylor-fronted ‘Bad Blood’ is a little to close to his own band Hot Chip for comfort. But the fact remains, SMD have set out to follow up a successful debut with a high profile dance record featuring lots of guest stars and they have done it without sacrificing one iota of credibility. For that alone, they deserve a medal.




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