Before you listen to Murmurations, the latest album electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco, you should know that a murmuration is a flock of starlings, or their movement together. The flock twists and turns, creating these fluid, ever-changing patterns. And while they are all individual birds, they seem to move in unison to create these weird shapes. That’s what Simian Mobile Disco or, more accurately, their guest singers from Deep Throat Choir do with vocals. With the choirs’ separate voices used as an instrument over the electronic beats, Murmurations is trippy, weird, and beautiful.
On first listen, it sounds like Bananarama is guiding you through a drug trip (in the weirdest way possible.) While the Deep Throat Choir are female singers that’s where the similarities to Bananarama end. The London-based choir describe themselves as “wimmin who sing” on their website, but they do some amazing things with their clear, high vocals. The arrangements really do sound like starlings whirling around in the sky, with many different vocalists contributing to one cohesive choir that is moving and bending their voices. It creates beautiful effects on “Caught in a Wave” as the voices rise and fall over pulsing beats and piercing percussion. The voices move so seamlessly that it seems like a few notes could have been sampled and used as a literal instrument, but if you check out the choir’s work on their own, it is clear that they create that dynamic sound themselves.
Much like a watching a murmuration and wondering which way they’ll pivot next, it’s not necessarily relaxing to listen to Murmurations. “Hey Sister” is a little unsettling, with bell-like sounds, a platoon of hand-clappers, and fluttery percussion. The choir (which sings in the singular) sings about a deep and undiscovered hunger her body has found pulsing through her veins as she asks her sister if she seems strange. The choir is a lot like the Vermillion in Legion or the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation on “Hey Sister” and “Defender”: while they are made up of individuals and sing lyrics in the singular, it sounds like an interconnected army is coming. Right in between these two Borg-esque songs is “A Perfect Swarm,” a stressful song that sounds like the choir is swarming as the vocals swell over distorted, buzzy sounds. The swarm later rises and falls over a pulsing beat and computerized beeps and boops. It’s 8 minutes and 21 seconds of anticipating when the next swell is coming while the beats convince you that you need to run.
Simian Mobile Disco do some neat things without vocals as well. “Gliders” starts out kind of pastoral, with sounds that mimics a ships’ rigging as it tosses on the sea and some watery spray-like sounds, but eventually devolves into computerized sounds. It’s kind of like the musical equivalent of Westworld: it seems natural at first, but dig a little deeper and it’s all robots and it’s falling apart. “V-Formation” is a seven-minute long house track that incorporates sounds that are reminiscent of everything from whale songs to a busy signal to a buzzy spaceship wobbling out of control. “Murmuration” closes the album with a far-away piano meandering over buzzy synth; it kind of sounds like waking up at day break after that weird drug trip with Bananarama and trying to piece everything together.
This is a really interesting album and, while not always relaxing, it is amazing to hear the vocals and beats work together. It’s easy to lose sight of this being a Simian Mobile Disco album since the Deep Throat Choir commands so much attention on the songs on which they’re featured, but there’s a lot going on behind and around the vocals, too. It’s kind of a weird listen, but it’s a good one. So hang in there past the first spin when it still sounds like a trip and enjoy it more on subsequent listens.