A perfect swarm
Simian Mobile Disco is an electronic music duo comprised of James Ford and Jas Shaw. Formed in 2003, SMD was only a side project. However, the duo has become well- known for using analog synthesizers and producing fresh, quality sounds. Their sixth full- length album, titled Murmurations, was created in collaboration with London-based Deep Throat Choir, an all-female singing collective. After exchanging ideas with Luisa Gerstein, director of the choir, SMD decided to invite the entire choir down to Jas Shaw’s studio. “Listening to them moving their voices around a tone, altering the timbre, making chords, was like working with an incredible new synthesizer,” said Shaw.
The album opens with “Boids,” in which quiet chanting builds into a swarm of voices, all remaining individual until the song reaches its climax, when the voices suddenly become subdued and with one drawn-out note, disappear completely. “Caught In A Wave,” released as a single, continues that sleepy, subdued vocal melody. You can almost physically feel the sway of the voices as a huge, thumping beat keeps time. A chorus line of voices sing out, “Caught in a wave/ I couldn’t see/ Which way to go/ Swept underneath.” SMD have an amazing sense of how to use repetition in a way that is powerful, not boring, and this song is a perfect example. The sound crashes around the repeated lyrics with a beat that is almost animal. “V Formation” features a classic dance beat while the choir sings out ethereal tones into the universe. Murmurations ends with the title track, a dizzy, shimmering oasis. It’s relaxed, while there is a chaos of sound circling around, like being caught in a butterfly bush, before coming to a slow quiet resolution.
Amidst the success of Murmurations, SMD does have some bad news for fans. The US tour has been indefinitely postponed, due to Jas Shaw being recently diagnosed with a rare disease called AL amyloidosis. It is an aggressive condition that affects the production of proteins in tissues and organs in the body. It is also a very rare disease, only 1,200 to 3,200 new cases are reported on average. Shaw says, “I was told that, left untreated, I’d have a matter of months… the treatment’s been going very well. Everyone’s been so supportive, none the least James who’s basically carried us through the preparation for our Barbican show! It’s just frustrating because I’m used to getting stuff done. I have to look at it like my new job is metabolizing medicine, which is tedious, but you know, I’m very lucky. If this had happened in America, and I didn’t have health insurance… or honestly in so many other places… there’s a lot to be thankful for.” While Shaw is receiving treatment, the tour will be postponed until further notice.
The duo has a knack for retaining their creative energy, using imaginative methods to stay fresh and new while maintaining a unique sound at their core. The collaboration between SMD and Deep Throat Choir was a smart move. Murmurations is a perfect mix of what both groups do best; it’s haunting, powerful and catchy, with songs that dig deep and have a rich, full sound.