- The experimental duo turn plastic into music.
- Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt have spent the last quarter century making music as Matmos, a group whose style Daniel once described as "noisy electronic music often made with unusual sources." Those sources have included everything from "the snips, clicks, snaps, and squelches of various surgical procedures," to simpler fare like washing machines and shuffled playing cards (they did that one live on tour for Björk, with whom they produced the albums Vespertine and Medúlla). Matmos's latest LP, Plastic Anniversary, marks their 25th as both a musical duo and a couple. The chosen sound source this time is plastic, which feels like the perfect subject for a Matmos album. On the one hand, it's quirky, symbolizing the mundanity and strangeness of modern life. On the other, it's quite sinister, playing its role in a looming environmental crisis that threatens human civilization as we know it.
Perhaps most importantly, plastic presents virtually endless sonic possibilities. Matmos tease a dazzling panorama of sounds from its many forms, some easily identifiable, others intentionally obscure or mangled beyond recognition (many are named in the track titles). On "Interior With Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat," you'll recognize the clack of the billiard balls, but probably not the synthetic fat, a substitute for human flesh used in medical schools. Many tracks riff on the social implications of plastic objects as well as their physical properties. "Thermoplastic Riot Shield," a vicious beat track that wouldn't have sounded out of place on SOPHIE's last album, has an aura of violence well suited to its subject.
That track, arriving just after the sweetly sentimental "Plastic Anniversary," signals a move toward darker themes. Plastic's original innovators described it as "a fourth kingdom," beyond the animal, vegetable and mineral. With that in mind, the cacophonous "Collapse Of The Fourth Kingdom" feels apocalyptic, especially coming before "Plastisphere," an ambient piece evoking vast wastelands of plastic detritus (made, according to the press release, from samples of bubble wrap, Velcro, plastic bags, straws and an emergency stretcher). It's probably not a coincidence that the album starts off upbeat optimistic and ends in a lifeless dystopia, as if mirroring the story of plastic itself.
Matmos's music works best when its disparate threads work in perfect concert. That is sometimes, but not always, the case on Plastic Anniversary. Daniel once laughed off comparisons to Blue Man Group and STOMP, but this album might make you think of one or the other—and not just when they're playing PVC pipes with toilet brushes ("The Singing Tube"). There's no denying its mastery—like all of Matmos's records, it is strange, ambitious and overflowing with dazzling sounds. Some tracks are impressively groovy, possibly even destined for the odd Rekordbox library ("Breaking Bread," "Silicone Gel Implant"). Somehow, though, the music, humor and social commentary just don't gel the way they have in the past, like on the classic A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, or their last album, the excellent Ultimate Care II. Those records are surreal and transportive. Plastic Anniversary is just extraordinarily clever, something to be marveled at more than moved by.
01. Breaking Bread
02. The Crying Pill
03. Interior With Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat
04. Extending The Plastisphere To GJ237b
05. Silicone Gel Implant
06. Plastic Anniversary
07. Thermoplastic Riot Shield
08. Fanfare For Polyethylene Waste Containers
09. The Singing Tube
10. Collapse Of The Fourth Kingdom