Matmos – ‘Supreme Balloon’
June 29, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, May 29, 2008.
“No microphones were used on this album,” reads the liner notes for Matmos’s seventh and latest album proper Supreme Balloon. It’s not the most striking of statements in the context of experimental electronic music, but when it comes to the wildly divergent creative product of Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt – the San Franciscan creative and life-partners behind the group – it’s an absolute watershed.
Advanced microphonics has been central to Matmos’s 13-year-long career. Utilising ultra-sensitive surface microphones and strong stomachs, they have concocted a musical vernacular via the most bizarre and outlandish of sound-source material. In the process, Matmos have become two of the most quietly revered experimental sound and music makers on the planet.
While 2001’s now legendary album A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure was entirely rendered from sounds recorded during surgical procedures – the cuts, snips, squelches and crunches of blood, flesh and bone – 2006’s briliant The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast saw Schmidt and Daniel extract micro-recordings of anything from the sound of semen, to burning human flesh, freshly cut hair and the embalmed reproductive tract of a cow.
Crafted using a bunch of classic 60s, 70s and 80s synths, sequencers and effects rigs, Supreme Balloon breaks from the Matmos schema in a big way. Indeed, from the blocky keys, plodding beats, buzzes and clicks of opener ‘Rainbow Flag’, the album proves a creature of playful retro-electronic nuance, summery melodic overture and accessibly cute, shuffling rhythms. ‘Polychords’ is straight out of a Commodore 64 adventure game, while the funereal pastiche of ‘Le Folies Francaises’ seems an oddly medieval take on synth composition.
But Supreme Balloon’s playfulness doesn’t mean that Matmos have dumbed down their legendarily and radically complex music. Far from it. While cuts like ‘Mister Mouth’ and ‘Exciter Lamp’ lend a mind-bending intricacy to booty-bass, the 24-minute masterpiece that is the title-track proves an exercise in brilliant, prog-flecked, contemporary composition. The glittering, beautifully restrained melody of ‘Cloudhoppers’, meanwhile, proves the albums most emotive and perhaps effective vignette.
At a glance, it would be easy to discredit Supreme Balloon. Indeed, its unashamedly retrospective instrumentation and accessible sound hint at a twee piece of early electronic revivalism. But such an analysis would unfairly discredit this terrible two. Listen to Supreme Balloon more closely and you’ll realise that, true to form, there are sophisticated swathes of layer, lineage and reference embedded deep within these seemingly simple synth lines.
It’s just that Matmos are allowing themselves to have fun here. And for once in their career, they’re doing so with no surface mics, bits of flesh, hair, semen or strings attached.