Never afraid to embrace the unconventional, James Ford and Jas Shaw, aka analogue masterminds Simian Mobile Disco, not only recorded their fourth LP, Whorl, in front of 900 fans on the outskirts of the Joshua Tree National Park before sprucing it up in the studio, they also entirely abandoned their usual racks of gear in favour of just one synthesiser and one sequencer each.
Unsurprisingly, the London duo’s unusual choice of location appear to have heavily inspired the relatively back-to-basics follow-up to 2012’s Unpatterns, with nearly every single one of its twelve entirely instrumental tracks seemingly designed for stargazing in the vast open spaces of the Californian desert.
Indeed, for a band named Simian Mobile Disco, it’s slightly ironic that Whorl doesn’t feature any sign of a bassline or a rhythm until half-way through the slow-motion techno of its third track, “Sun Dogs.” Instead it’s the minimalist synth drones and ambient spacey effects of opener “Redshift” and the equally lush beatless soundscape of “Dandelion Spheres” which dominate this imaginary sci-fi score.
Fans who prefer Ford and Shaw’s more pulsating output might find all the celestial noodling a little self-indulgent, with only the springy synth-funk of “Jam Side Up” and the cosmic house of “Calyx” raising the tempo to their more familiar levels.
However, although the record does undoubtedly meander at times, those willing to go with the pair on their extraterrestrial journey will find plenty to sustain their interest, from the post-apocalyptic eeriness of “Iron Henge,” to the Vangelis-esque melancholy of “Hypnick Jerk,” to the atmospheric twinkling of “Tangents.”
Of course, the Joshua Tree area is renowned for inspiring bands to widen their horizons, and while Whorl is unlikely to propel Simian Mobile Disco into the stratosphere U2-style, it’s still an engaging immersive experience which should enhance their reputation as dance music’s most far-reaching duo.