Let’s compare Unpatterns to a conversation over dinner. You’re sitting across from James Ford and Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco—who are hosting—there’s a plate of food in front of you, probably a drink, and the conversation wheels between everyone. At times, the discussion itself dominates your attention, overwhelming whatever sensory imput the food and drink is offering. At this point in listening to the album, the rhythms loosen your neck and heads bobs up and down.
Like any dialogue though, especially one in Simian Mobile Disco’s dialect of house music, there are lapses. Sometimes the album feels fairly content with just entertaining, merely occupying your senses while Ford and Shaw slowly exclude you from the conversation. The food is in front of you, “we’re having a nice chat, there, now we’re all happy,” says the album.
House songs, like conversations and even album reviews, have established formulas to work off of. The title of Unpatterns alone seems to promise an effort to stave off such formulaic staleness, and does so at its best moments. Awareness of any convention is consumed by the imparted by the music. such as on the album openers and closers, “I Waited for You” and “Pareidolia.”
At other times though, Simian Mobile Disco seem to settle for something formulaic: the bass gets a bit more intense verse by verse, the main synth element becomes a little weirder and slightly more evocative, it builds to some sort of crescendo before the giving way to the break out. Then things quiet down so you can appreciate the quiet, bloopy loops that have been there the whole song, but had faded to the background on the busier parts of the track. Both “Interference” and “Put Your Hands Together” have some of this feeling, and it makes for a distinct lull right in the middle of the album.
The title of the last track seems almost to respond to this sort of criticism. Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon by which people will mistakenly see patterns in randomness, such as seeing a face on the moon or a dinosaur in the clouds. It’s clear if Simian Mobile Disco says we should take their song as a face or a series of craters, but, much more so than other tracks, “Pareidolia” engages that ambiguity in an involving way. It let’s the song build quietly, the it searches for some more organic, less formulaic expression. At the outset, the synths quiver in unison like crickets on a summer night. The climaxes are simple: one large, aquatic synth consumes the other sounds, and do no so much feel like some sort of destination in the song as they do a forgetting of destination, a giving in to what is already there and seeing it in another way. The song forgets itself, and the album closes with a sample of crickets chirping.
While Unpatterns—to return to the dinner metaphor—isn’t one of those evenings that will be easily remembered, you will remember the feeling that some of the moments provide. Yes, the album is conversation that wanes in quality and its ability to hold your attention, but these only seem to arise because Simian Mobile Disco is looking hard for something else, for the those flashes of frisson that overwhelm and shift one’s awareness. –– Matt Conover
Stream ‘Unpatterns’ in its entirety here.