Occasionally someone will find the Virgin Mary's image on a slice of toast, or they're sure they see grandpa's face in a patch of clouds. That phenomenon of trying to find meaning in random stimuli is called "pareidolia," a word that's also the title of the closing number on 2012's Unpatterns (Wichita Records), Simian Mobile Disco's third full-length. While discussing the London duo's interest in pareidolia, James Ford points to an example on the title track of A Form of Change, a recent EP composed of Unpatterns leftovers. "There's a bass line that runs throughout the track that is actually not in time with the track," Ford says. "It's totally asynchronous, but it's still a sequence of notes, and it does this interesting thing where your brain sees a pattern and tries to put a rhythm to it, even though there is no rhythm there or it keeps changing."
This marks the latest crafty tongue-in-cheek touch from a group who adore their crafty tongue-in-cheek touches. Back in 2000, Ford met Jas Shaw at Manchester University. Both would become part of electro-rock four-piece Simian. Sometime around 2005, Simian dissolved, with Ford and Shaw regrouping as Simian Mobile Disco — their tongue-in-cheek suffix stemming from British slang for a corny wedding/bar mitzvah DJ. In the years since, the two have repeatedly used glowing electro to combine smarts and humor with tasty dance beats. The most theatrical instance of this aesthetic in action is "Audacity of Huge" off 2009's Temporary Pleasure. As a ridiculous, robotic beat sets the mood, Yeasayer's Chris Keating steps in as guest vocalist to brag about owning several absurd novelties that could be afforded only by the upper class — "that mother-of-pearl oyster fork," a "Damien Hirst telephone," "that grape Kool-Aid-filled swimming pool" — while still bitching about his love life. "Audacity" offers incisive dissection of rich-kid ennui in a context where you'd least expect to find it.
Over the years, SMD's sonics have grown increasingly similar in style and function to old-school arcade games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders. Both those games and SMD squeeze the most out of a minimal palette by championing simple construction and geometric designs. Nowadays, Ford aims for "hopefully less than 10 things" to move and modulate inside any given track.
Subtlety and manageability haven't always been Simian Mobile Disco's thing, but that's their focus nowadays. Though Ford sounds uninterested in regularly adding massive crescendos to songs as the group did years ago, the relationship between the music makers, he says, has changed little since starting this. "I don't think we're ever going to take over the world and be an absolutely massive band, but we're happy with where we are."
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO + JDH + DAVE P :: Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston :: December 11 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $20 :: 617.562.8800 or thedise.com