Photo: Theo Anthony / Thrill Jockey Records

Matmos Arrive with an Arsenal of Plastic Sources on Their Anniversary

Experimental electronic duo, Matmos return after the exquisite Ultimate Care II with an etude on the various sounds that plastic materials can awaken.

Plastic Anniversary
Thrill Jockey
15 March 2019

Since they set out in 1995, Matmos have been on a quest to bridge electronic music with musique concrete. Their debut record and Quasi-Objects found the duo making use of objects around their home and recording the resulting sounds. However, it was with A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure that Matmos unveiled the extent of this vision. Their fourth full-length followed a thematic cohesion, using samples recorded during medical procedures, once more to build a work of intelligent electronic music. This notion of using a single source as the “voice” of their work reached a peak for Matmos with Ultimate Care II, which featured entirely sounds recorded from a washing machine. The result of this long-form investigation was a staggering record of experimental electronica, featuring everything from ragged IDM to post-industrial machinations.

The duo returns today with another concept, one that hits much harder: plastic. Matmos’ new record is an anthem to one of the leading causes of pollution to the planet in all its various forms. So here come the PVC pipelines, the bubble wrap, and the Styrofoam. But that is not all, with Matmos also exploring sound from silicone gel breast implants and even synthetic human fat! All these “instruments” make up the structure of our reality. Materials that we might use in our everyday life and that is how Plastic Anniversary can arrive with a familiar tonality.

There are times where Matmos take an almost classical approach to their electronic core. The processed samples and the various sources of sound work together to bring about a reworking of past musical traditions. “The Crying Pill” is an instance of this approach, with the progression and scope of the track moving much beyond electronic music. The title track is another instance of this mentality, with its ceremonial-like rhythm and big horn section resulting in a dramatic manifestation.

Yet, there is a playful element that Matmos awaken in Plastic Anniversary. The tempering with all these materials has enhanced the sardonic attitude of the duo, and it shows from the rhythmic component to the choice of samples. “Breaking Bread” introduces this side early on, “Silicone Gel Implant” takes it even further, while the squirmy and pitchy sounds of “The Singing Tube” cut sharply with this sense of extravagant energy. And there are times when there is a festive feeling in the air, with “Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom” taking on a carnivalesque form, producing a cacophonous bizarro version of a New Orleans-ian Mardi Gras parade.

This larger than life side clashes with the inherent minimalism and experimentalism at the core of Matmos. It is intriguing to see how the record leads from the big moments of “The Crying Pill” to a moment of dark introspection with “Interior with Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat”. It sees the band take a mysterious and more menacing tone that reaches a peak further on with “Thermoplastic Riot Shield”. The switches from the stripped down, hostile ambient passages to the electronic explosions give the track its volatile presence. It is this contradiction of verbose minimalism that Matmos call upon to enhance the scenery of the work that propels this record. The final part of “Interior with Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat” is a testament to this methodology, while “Fanfare for Polyethylene Waste Containers” takes this concept further, building an impressive background through a palette of subtle noises, hisses, and bleeps.

Despite the eclectic electronic themes that drive Matmos’ work, they are at their best when they retreat into a state of complete experimentation. The closing track of the record “Plastisphere” makes that point brilliantly, as the duo produces an almost granular, microsound layer. In this extraordinary overture, they project an image of a world that has succumbed to the overwhelming presence of Matmos’ source material and has become completely unrecognizable. It acts as a memento and a warning to a real problem and becomes the perfect closing to the duo’s 25th anniversary. Plastic Anniversary showcases how it is possible for an artist to find inspiration even in the most mundane. And from those everyday, ordinary (and some not so ordinary) sources, they can elevate their artistic intentions to a higher level.

RATING 8 / 10