Simian Mobile Disco - Whorl

by Brian Lange. Rating:9 Release Date:2014-09-08

I could have sworn I was listening to some sort of mix of Aphex Twin’s Analord and Selected Ambient Works Volume II when I popped this record on for the first time. This is a much, much more subdued Simian than most of us are used to.

Its simplicity and minimalist approach stems from the fact that on April 26, 2014, Simian Mobile Disco announced they would be recording their latest record at an intimate show near Joshua Tree National Park. SMD members James Ford and Jas Shaw would perform using only one synthesizer and one sequencer each. The recordings would later be polished in the studio and would eventually become Whorl. 

In addition to resembling Richard D James' more ambient works and planetarium music, there seems to be a resonating 90s trance influence. Again, I really have to emphasize how different this record is compared to earlier Simian material.

All the tracks are free of lyrics or any sort of spoken audio samples. With a sparse approach to the music, and minimal instruments, this work is unlike any other material in Simian’s catalogue. If you’ve ever needed a soundtrack for astronauts working on satellites in orbit, this is it. 

Witnessing this performance at Joshua Tree would certainly have been a transcendental experience. It is fitting that this record stemmed from a live show. Immediately, you get a sense of atmosphere, the calmness of a cool spring night with the celestial bodies in view. It doesn’t go as far as the type of thing you’d hear at the planetarium or while watching a documentary about supernovas and black holes, but it’s not that far off. 

Whorl will undoubtedly deter some Simian fans; maybe it will gain some others. The fact it is not even recognizable as an SMD record speaks to the content. I don’t expect this to be the new direction of the duo, as it is likely a one-off. But it is a grand one, and worth purchasing. 

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