After a friend of Ford's wife introduced him and Shaw to the choir, the duo invited them into the studio for what started out as loose, experimental sessions. "Listening to them moving their voices around a tone, altering the timbre, making chords," said Shaw, "was like working with an incredible new synthesiser." In effect, that's what Simian Mobile Disco have done here, using the choir as another instrument with often stunning results. It's not an exaggeration to call the choir's sound heavenly—their voices overlap in thick waves of "ahhs" and "ohhs," like light pouring into a dark room. The gossamer underlayer of airy, elongated keys on "Boids," the LP's opener and its sparest track, subtly supports this holy feel.
If "Boids" demonstrates the potency of the women's voices, then "Caught In A Wave" reveals how much they can change a piece's mood and tone. It starts out similarly to "Boids," but thudding heartbeat percussion and toms add drama, along with the quickened "ah-ah-ah"s that form the track's subtly menacing bed. The lyrics, meanwhile, are simple yet evocative. "Caught in a wave / I couldn't see / Which way to go / Swept underneath," they sing, harmonising after each line. Water and waves are recurring motifs across the LP. Allusions to drowning and losing control are countered by tracks that speak to strength and power.
The album's title refers to the motion made by starlings that fly in clusters to protect themselves from predators, stay warm and exchange information. These murmurations often form stunning shapes in the sky, and when one bird changes direction or speed, the others follow suit in fluid motion. The choir feels similarly aligned. It's the production that provides discord. On tracks like "A Perfect Swarm," where synths burble under the wailing chorus, the electronic elements are cast almost as a predatory threat to the choir.
"I can't really understand why people would want to knock out the same old shit all the time," Shaw told RA in 2014. You could hardly accuse Simian Mobile Disco of doing that. In spite of the LP's specific concept, the production has a surprising range, going from trippy and tribal ("Hey Sister") to gentle and luxuriant ("Murmurations"). Whatever the mood, the music always sounds free and unlaboured. Shaw and Ford have never shied away from experimentation and risk. Murmurations is as rewarding for the listener as it must've been for the artists.