ritish quartet Simian’s debut Chemistry Is What We Are was one of 2001’s most surprising musical treats, a twisting, rollicking mélange of psychedelia, electronica and sheer weirdness that succeeded as both a head-nodding and a head-scratching pop record. For their sophomore effort, however, Simian have turned in a distinctly more straightforward set. We Are Your Friends is still weird as hell, but the tunes bounce along in a far more accessible fashion, featuring downright infectious hooks and a predilection for the type of swampy electro-funk popularized by artists like OutKast and Missy Elliot.
One need look no further to see the difference in Simian than the cover. Chemistry features an almost clinical looking photo of a strange goat-type creature, conjuring images of weirdness and mutation from the get-go; the “Chemistry” of the title could have been any number of things: drugs, genetic experimentation, alchemy, etc. In contrast, We Are Your Friends features a bright pop-art photo of grinning band members, looking eager to please. The transition is exhibited, also, in the titles themselves: Simian went from defining themselves as something “chemical” and slightly sinister, to something bright and distinctly “friendly.” No accident there, dear listeners. But if their next album is titled We Are The Annoying Best Friend That Sleeps On Your Couch and Eats Your Food, head for the hills.
While Simian’s debut seemed clearly indebted to Stereloab, Captain Beefheart, and other similarly out-minded artists, We Are Your Friends is clearly a more funky, poppy affair; one can hear tidbits of Sparks, Prince, Brian Eno’s pop albums (in fact, Eno is rumored to have been “hanging around the studio” during recording), and especially the Neptunes. The funk here, though, is cut through with shimmering power-pop melodies, making the album far more than just four British kids sitting around trying to ape some black American records (now where have we heard that formula before?). It almost sounds as if Jellyfish got in the studio with Timbaland behind the controls. The leadoff track, “LA Breeze” generally sums up the mood of the record, with layered vocal harmonies bopping gently over a bubbling funk undercurrent while paying homage to the American West Coast.
In fact, the only track here that seems as if it might have fit on the band’s debut is the slightly spooky “She’s In Mind,” which doesn’t turn up until track 11. But the fact that this metronomic, haunted-sounding ballad makes an appearance at all bears evidence that whatever influences Simian might wear front-and-center on future efforts, there is always slightly more going on behind the scenes than meets the ear. Think about it like this: any band that can jump genres so obviously between their first and second record and do it successfully deserves your attention. More importantly, they sound like little else you’ve heard before.