Simian Mobile Disco: Is Fixed

A relentlessly engaging assault on the dancefloor, this mix CD promotes Simian Mobile Disco's current gig doing NYC's Fixed parties. This just in: Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry is still cooler than you'll ever be.

Simian Mobile Disco
Label: Defend Music
Title: Is Fixed
US Release Date: 2010-10-12
UK Release Date: 2010-11-08
Label Website
Artist Website

There's a scene in the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack, as the obsessive record store owner Rob, describes the rules for making the perfect mixtape. Obviously the opening cut has to throttle you, or else the thing gets trashed. That's not enough, however: you need to take it up a notch for number two, only to cool it for track three. "There are a lot of rules," he admits.

He didn't begin to scratch the surface -- what about the "third-quarter surprise gem", John? -- but even if Jas Shaw and James Ford (together, Simian Mobile Disco) had seen that film, Cusack's guidelines have fallen on one deaf set of ears. It's pretty hard to hear a soft-spoken music geek in a throbbing nightclub, anyway.

From the initial rush of Brain Machine's "Eternal Night" to the creeping calm of Delia Derbyshire's mushroomed monotone on "Dreams", the duo's mix CD Is Fixed is a start-to-finish thrill. In the trash compactor are burbling synths, hissing drum machines, faint hand claps, saxophone mimicking jazz's aural body language -- and that’s just the first song. Simian Mobile Disco doesn't play around; from the first pulse, this is intense, knotty music that rarely lets up. Anywhere else, "Eternal Night" would be a sufficient mid-album cut, but here it slices through the handshakes and goes right to running from a drunken meathead after spilling a drink on his girlfriend.

The songs might carry a note of discomfort, but the sequencing doesn't. This is kinetic music, with no jarring sequences. Simian Mobile Disco are party professionals: songs seamlessly blend into each other like an expertly woven quilt to keep you warm when you've passed out on the couch at 3 a.m.

The title celebrates the duo's residency doing New York's traveling Fixed parties, and Is Fixed is just a sampling of what comes on when Simian Mobile Disco takes over. Appropriately, the mix CD is the first US domestic release for the UK-based production team, but the surprise is how such a grab bag flows so well, arguably smoother than both the team's dancefloor debut Attack Decay Sustain Release and the robo-soul of follow-up Temporary Pleasure. Instead of the usual Halloween-haul feel that even the most professional mixes have -- a few reliable brand names, some fairly faceless stuff, one or two oddities from the kind of people your mom told you to avoid -- it's a consistent sugar rush.

Attack Decay Sustain Release feels almost lethargic compared to Is Fixed, which is, for one thing, louder. Simian Mobile Disco brings the noise, but there are pretty moments, too, with sparkling flourishes of the Ibiza sound. Conrad Schnitzler is far from Spanish, yet the electronic O.G.'s "Ballet Statique" has that sound's languid, weightless quality Chicago wishes it invented. This is music, after all, that was meant to be city glitter, enjoyed by people giving little thought to what they're hearing. Regardless, to call Is Fixed "mindless" would be neglecting the intelligence that goes into redefining the perfect mix.

Is Fixed is largely a mics-off affair for Shaw and Ford, focusing instead on the tangled thicket of electro-foliage. When vocals do pop up, in Bam Bam's absurdist ransom note voicemail "Where's Your Child", they don't help to clarify or resolve anything. A concept album it's not, and Simian Mobile Disco choose surprise over any unified theme. The next vocalist's very appearance comes as a shock: Bryan Ferry has the patent pumpers in the palm of his hand on "U Can Dance". Even by Ferry standards he sounds like a man with a limitless knowledge of cocktails, women, and fashion, but the luxury to be bored with all of them. The ever-suave Roxy Music maestro still sounds cool at age 65 -- who else can get away with singing that familiar line, "Do you come here often?" The track escalates into cavernous noise, sounding like someone racing their Ferrari through a parking garage. "False Prophet", meanwhile, is just plain disorienting, a necessary addition for skeptics who think club music has to be some degree of warm and squishy. "Nerve Salad" is the only Simian Mobile Disco original here, but the stamina and blank-faced production ensure it's no red herring.

Compilations shouldn't flow this well. This one is consistently engaging, and aside from Ferry, it's also largely devoid of the star power other acts might be tempted to pull in. Some tracks do stagnate -- Andre Walter's "Malphas", for one -- but the songs are mostly flip-book Darwin drawings, mutating so often that no two 20-second stretches sound alike. Even "Malphas" has an unsettling siren designed to foreshadow the panic in "Where's Your Child". This music is fixed in title only.

A nearly-wordless assortment of dance remixes doesn't exactly smack of accessibility, and ambient music has the perverse reputation of being notoriously esoteric. Simian Mobile Disco probably weren't going for a greater reach to outsiders, but this seamless aural assault might ironically be a gateway for people who wanted to rock the rooftops but never thought they were on the list.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.