There's nothing like shaking up an established formula for inspiring creativity. For their latest album, Simian Mobile Disco wrote the material in just three days before recording it live using analogue equipment, in the Californian desert. It's not something you'd expect from a duo known for their polished dance music.
Knowing that, the sheer amount of material on 'Whorl' is an impressive feat. And it's far from typical dance fare. In a move away from rigid 4/4 beats, the tracks have an organic, almost improvised, feel as they slowly develop and bloom. This is an album of space-age oblivion, hypnotic whirring synths and sweeping cinematic vistas, closer in style to Vangelis than anything the duo have done before. It might have a retro feel with the use of analogue sequencers, but 'Whorl' never settles on pastiche.
It is, however, perhaps a little unrefined. Its length leads to repetition, with some tracks in need of a trim. For all its nagging melodies and technological effects, too often the duo rest on mesmeric atmospherics and effervescence that quickly dissipates. After a while you'll need a break from the gloom, though you'll be compelled to jump back in - particularly for the latter half.
As you'd expect from the live recording, 'Whorl' is structured like a live DJ set - stick with it for the better tracks. After a strong opening of orbital ambience (Redshift and Dandelion Spheres), the album sags in the middle with the cosmic monotony of Z Space and the ominous Nazard. Later the album shifts gears as the beats get heavier. Calyx offers up futuristic disco, Jam Side Up is a particularly satisfying, bubbling concoction, and trance-like lead single Tangents is the closest 'Whorl' gets to familiar dance music. Casiopeia then flips the sound on its head with an abstract and almost disturbing piece of sound design. The aliens have finally landed.
For the most part, 'Whorl' forms the background music to some wildly dystopian sci-fi film. It's an intriguing experiment that makes for a fascinating listen, but it remains background music all the same. Perhaps the duo will do a Daft Punk and expand their career into film music. 'Whorl' is certainly a step in that direction.
* Jam Side Up
Listen: 'Whorl' is available now.