Album Title
Artist IconMuse
Artist Icon Simulation Theory
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First Released

Calendar Icon 2018

Genre

Genre Icon Alternative Rock

Mood

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Album Description
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Simulation Theory is the eighth studio album by English rock band Muse. It was released on 9 November 2018 through Warner Bros. Records and Helium-3. Co-produced by the band with Rich Costey, Mike Elizondo, Shellback, and Timbaland, it is a synth-rock album with themes of simulation and centering on the idea of "fantasy becoming real". Contrasting the band's previous three albums which dealt with darker themes, the band sought lighter influences from science fiction and 1980s pop culture and produced the album one track at a time without a focus on a greater narrative or theme. Recording began at AIR Studios in London in early 2017 with Elizondo, creating three tracks before embarking on a midyear tour of North America. Production restarted in Los Angeles in late 2017 with Costey, who had co-produced Muse's albums Absolution (2003) Black Holes and Revelations (2006). Muse wanted to combine elements from multiple eras. The contemporary political climate of the United States informed the music and lyrics.

The album cover for Simulation Theory, designed by Stranger Things artist Kyle Lambert, and its music videos, directed by Miike Snow and Twin Shadow collaborator Lance Drake, shared the album's 1980s pop culture and science fiction influences, homaging Back to the Future, Critters, Ghostbusters, Max Headroom, Michael Jackson's Thriller, and Teen Wolf. The album was preceded by the release of singles "Dig Down", "Thought Contagion", "Something Human", "The Dark Side", and "Pressure", along with a 2018 festival tour of North America. It was released in a standard edition alongside two deluxe editions featuring alternate versions of its tracks. A headline tour of North America and Europe in 2019 is planned.

Background
Following Black Holes and Revelations in 2006, Muse released three concept albums – The Resistance, The 2nd Law, and Drones – with darker themes such as government oppression, energy depletion, and remote warfare respectively. Each album was followed with tours with elaborate stage designs, visual effects, and pyrotechnic programmes. Following the conclusion of the Drones World Tour, the band and tour director Glen Rowe expressed an eagerness to design a new more ambitious tour, but with a different musical direction. Singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy entertained the possibility of experimenting with hip hop or making another attempt at creating a stripped-back acoustic sound. Drummer Dominic Howard suggested that the band might release singles or EPs to target audiences who did not listen to albums.

Composition
Simulation Theory explores the role of simulation in society and the simulation hypothesis, which proposes that reality is a simulation. Biographer Mark Beaumont wrote that it would likely be songwriter Matt Bellamy's "dissection of the idea that we're all just lumps of code in the shape of unusually lumpy sims". In contrast to the darker themes of Muse's previous albums, Simulation Theory takes on a lighter science fiction theme, with "fantasy becoming real" cited by Bellamy as a core idea.

The band wanted to blend elements of different eras, citing the music of Lana Del Rey, who mixes 50s-style music with lyrics concerning modern concepts in songs such as "Video Games", as an example. The opening track, "Algorithm", features a musical juxtaposition between classical piano and 80s synthesizers and chiptunes. "Something Human" is rock song inspired by folk rock written to counteract the "dark vibe" of Drones and the Drones World Tour. Bellamy described it as a "tender, down-to-earth, simplistic song" that describes the burnout and homesickness he felt towards the end of the tour. "Pressure" is a power pop track with contrasting horns and guitars, reminiscent of nerd rock. The song features several interchanging riffs.

"Dig Down", one of the first songs written, is a reaction to the social and political climate following the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, hoping to "give inspiration, optimism and hope to people to fight for the causes they believe in." "Thought Contagion" was written in late 2017 following the band's move to Los Angeles, California, and the restart of production. The verses stem from Bellamy's anxieties observing American news at the time; its chorus recalls Bellamy's concerns about the power misinformed or ideological people have over their audiences. The track's title and hook was inspired by scientist Richard Dawkins, who compared the spread of thoughts, "regardless of their accuracy and truth", to a viral disease.

Recording

AIR Studios in London, England, where the first recording sessions for Simulation Theory took place in early 2017.
Muse began writing and recording their eighth studio album following the conclusion of the Drones World Tour in late 2016. The band spent time at AIR Studios in London, England, with producer Mike Elizondo until they left to embark on a tour of North America with PVRIS and Thirty Seconds to Mars, which began on 20 May 2017. Three tracks were written and recorded during these sessions; information that had been relayed by the band to a fan that visited them at AIR Studios in March 2017. One of the tracks, "Dig Down", was released following the conclusion of these sessions on 18 May 2017. At the end of the tour, the band moved to Los Angeles, California, to restart production, this time with collaborator Rich Costey, who co-produced Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations.

I think for the last two or three albums, we've always been thinking about the whole. It was nice to remind ourselves to just think about a song. What makes a song great?
Matt Bellamy, Rolling Stone
Rather than concentrating on the album as a whole, as they had on previous albums, Muse focused on recording and mixing one track at a time. The band hoped this would improve the individual quality of the songs, and they worked with no particular theme in mind, even halfway through its production.

One of the first tracks produced with Costey was "Thought Contagion", based on a bassline and theremin melody conceived by Bellamy. The band began recording it in November, and replaced the theremin with a ten-layer vocal chorus performed by Bellamy and bassist Chris Wolstenholme. The verses were originally intended to be supported by a heavier, arena-style drum sequence, before experimentation with programming led to a trap-inspired drum sound that emulated the Roland TR-808. The folk rock-inspired track "Something Human" was also co-produced with Costey. Shellback and Timbaland also co-produced tracks.

Artwork

The album cover for the "Super Deluxe" edition of Simulation Theory, illustrated by Disney collaborator Paul Shipper
The album cover for Simulation Theory was designed by British visual artist Kyle Lambert, who had worked on the television series Stranger Things. It was created using Procreate on an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, and features a retro style focused on 1980s aesthetics, prompting comparisons by critics to Lambert's earlier work and similar aesthetics used in both 1980s and contemporary media. The cover for the "super deluxe" version was designed by Paul Shipper, who had designed the Dolby Cinema posters for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures films such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Avengers: Infinity War. It features an array of characters, including members of the band, in a stylistic arrangement similar to Shipper's previous work.
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