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.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.