Review Summary: The toy soldiers move when you're not in the room.
Ever since their inception as both a musical duo and romantic partners, Matmos have clearly demonstrated how adept they are at avoiding the traps of predictions and assumptions. Once M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel had already released their first two found-sound-techno albums in 1998, the following year showcased a new album that was strikingly human. House guests were invited to have their own instruments recorded by the duo, and these sessions formed The West
, inching them closer to a folktronica categorization. Two years later, two steps back were taken by an album created almost entirely out of surgical sounds. After a decade of building electronic music out of every kind of object imaginable, they yet again avoided pigeonholing by fashioning Supreme Balloon
exclusively from synthesizers. Following over 20 years of churning out abstract experimental music with infusions of intangible comedy, Matmos have allowed themselves to recline a bit, and let the humanity behind all of their wacky inventions see more light than ever.
Their new album, Plastic Anniversary
, is remarkably cheerful. Its rubbery limbs celebrate the fact that the couple behind Matmos have made it to their 25th anniversary. The album begins with 'Breaking Bread', consisting of snapping vinyl records from the band Bread, because these men take pleasure in the absurd. In this opener, the tunes and jingles being played could be performed by a chamber orchestra just as easily as they are used here. Along with all of the abstract percussion and foley sounds, the music feels genuinely happy, and that theme is present throughout the album. 'The Crying Pill' mangles the squeaking sounds of a pill-shaped toy, and as the track progresses, the distinct characteristics of those sounds are spread out. A cheap plastic artifact begins to resemble more traditional instrumentation, and it becomes far more useful than some tacky plaything could ever dream of being.
Every single track on Plastic Anniversary
tackles this idea of an inexpensive material transforming into something much more vulnerable and fragile. Each one diffuses the matter into a human mind, but the titular track does this most effectively. Keeping the actual 25th anniversary of Schmidt and Daniel in mind, this number utilizes plastic horns to produce a triumphant, yet quaint atmosphere. Like a young son's drawing dedicated to his father, the amount of thought and effort that is pushed through bargain-bin tools like these is so unabashedly heartwarming. It radiates positivity and humor, sticking with the listener long after the album moves past it.
Tracks like 'Interior With Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat' make it impossible to ignore the knowledge Matmos possess regarding what satisfies our ears. The sounds of those solids and stripes clacking against each other on a pool table is instantly recognizable, adding an unmistakable charm to all four minutes of this particular song. 'The Singing Tube' and its use of some unknown object being scraped or scratched is almost exactly like the youthful plucking of an acoustic guitar. Even when Plastic Anniversary
is not dancing around so jubilantly, the rhythms forged and implemented by Matmos across all 40 minutes of the album mean that each track is memorable in its own way. Marching band performances, or at least those reminiscent of one, make 'Collapse Of The Fourth Kingdom' so invigorating, despite melodies and chords having a very minimal presence in the piece.
In an interview with Exclaim, Daniel notes that both him and Schmidt hope that "people can just hear [their music] and enjoy the patterns at that level," even if they don't take into account what is really creating all of these stretchy noises. This is achieved incredibly well on 'Plastisphere', the final culmination of Plastic Anniversary
. Absolutely nothing in this track sounds the least bit synthetic. Birds are chirping, rivers are flowing, and foliage cracks underneath footsteps. It is mind-blowing how well this facade works, and Matmos paid special attention that it did. 'Plastisphere' seems to be a dramatization of an Earth where all man-made material is finally consumed and returned to its natural state. What was once in abundance on our planet no longer exists, and this is arguably the happiest track on the album because of this scenario. Four relaxing minutes where landfills of garbage are not polluting the air. It is a fitting outro to an album that tries and succeeds to make a fine use for all of this filth.