MATMOS: Supreme Balloon (Matador Records)


Posted on May 14th 2008 10:28 pm

Filed in Albums | Tags: ,
Comments (4)

Matmos: Supreme Balloon

Supreme Balloon
Matador Records 2008
07 Tracks. 59mins21secs

Since they appeared, over ten years ago, with their eponymous debut album, Matmos, the then San Francisco-based project of two truly eccentric and inventive artists, Drew Daniel and Martin C. Schmidt, have redefined the boundaries of their own experimental universe with each new release. In many cases, Matmos have devised a record around a specific rule and have adhered to it, most famously on their 2001 A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, which was painstakingly constructed out of noises and sounds sourced from medical equipment, surgical interventions and body fluid, or on its follow up, The Civil War, which made good use of ancient musical instruments.

With Supreme Balloon, Matmos have turned their own experimentation on its head by dropping their usual paraphernalia of found sounds, collected in more or less unusual situations, to create an entire album based on sounds created using all sorts of vintage synthesizers, the list too long to mention here. While this may not instantly sound hugely original for a band like Matmos, it is however the first time they haven’t used any microphone at all. Supreme Balloon is, in a sense, the sterile ground sitting at the exact opposite of A Chance To Cut. To reinforce the principle guiding the pair throughout, the entire artwork is based on geometric patterns and sine waves of sort with the Matmos lads portrayed at the helm of said supreme balloon, a machine that looks like a cross between a seventeenth century Montgolfière and the control station of Dr Who’s Tardis.

Supreme Balloon begins with the fidgety video game theme tune that is Rainbow Flag. It is as maddening, tedious and annoyingly catchy as one would expect, and drops the listener right in. A similar arcade feel is applied to Exciter Lamp And The Variable Band, another effervescent piece which bubbles away and evaporates in just over three minutes, while Mister Mouth, which features, amongst other toys an E.V.I., or Electronic Voice Instrument, a breath-controlled oscillator, is perhaps a tad more tamed but remains as syncopated and disjointed. One would be forgiven for thinking that Matmos may have stolen the intro of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy for Polychords, but the track rapidly takes a dissident turn and bounces from glitch to bleep, all wrapped up around a deceptively simple melody. The process is not always entirely successful however. Les Folies Françaises, originally a piece by baroque French composer François Couperin, is given rather kitsch attires here, but it lacks substance and ends feeling a tad awkward and out of place.

The piece de resistance is the epic twenty four minute long Krautrock exercise of the title track. Echoes of early Kraftwerk, Cluster, Neu! and Harmonia resonate at various point of the piece, which slowly develops around a steady pulse during the first nine minutes before drifting into more ambient territories, evoking the vast electronic soundscapes of mid-seventies Klaus Schulze or Vangelis as the track gains momentum and the sounds are layered more generously. In its last part, this electronic odyssey becomes more minimal again, but this time, electronic voices give a strangely human character to the music as they float above a rarefied rhythmic hum for a moment before being swallowed in warm analogue soundwaves.

While the soft-spoken Cloud Hoppers is last to be listed, Matmos offer one more untitled piece at the end. Another sumptuous track which opens on Krautrock territory before morphing into a much more contemporary vivid collage of bleeps encrusted into a dense pneumatic beat, this concluding composition comes after ten minutes of silence, and is followed by a further eight second silent track.

Supreme Balloon was recorded in various places around the world, including the legendary INA/GRM studio in Paris, home of some of the biggest musique concrète composers, Matmos have invited a number of experimental luminaries, including Keith Fullerton Whitman, avant-garde jazz saxophonist Marshall Allen and San Francisco artist Jon Leidecker, aka Wobbly, to share the experience before the pair eventually returned to Baltimore, Maryland, their current place of residence.

A new Matmos record always brings something new to the band’s equation. This time though, seeing them abandoning their natural sound chasing ground for something much more conventional could sound quite an uninspired turn, but, in true Matmos style, Supreme Balloon continues to surprise and charm as it becomes more familiar. The pair have found ways to experiment outside of their realm and have produced, in the process, a magnificent record.


Icon: arrow Matmos | Matador Records
Icon: arrow Buy: CD | LP | iTunes

Filed in Albums | Tags: ,
Comments (4)

4 Responses to “MATMOS: Supreme Balloon (Matador Records)”

  1. bloomer_auon 15 May 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Hm. A Chance To Cut… is a CD I gave more time to in an effort to try to like than most others in my life (I’m not sure why I made such a Herculean effort), and I never did. Musicologically, Matmos just bore me, leaving me with no more than the schtick of the soundset used to create each track (rat bones, eye surgery, squishy stuff, human hair, etc.) The excerpts here don’t have a moment of seizing me in them either, so my broad rejection of them will continue :)

  2. themilkmanon 16 May 2008 at 12:59 am

    I was actually thinking when writing the review that it was quite surprising that Matmos have managed to interest so many with such an odd approach, so reading your comment certainly made me smile.

    Having been following Matmos for years, I must say that I have sometimes thought their approach a bit gimmicky, and, to a certain extend, perhaps it is, but I also think that they are genuinely interested in the sounds that exist around us and to which we don’t usually pay attention, either because we’re too busy or there are too many other things going on around, or more because we just can’t hear them. There is something quite compulsive about what they do I think, but I also can imagine that it can be a bit of a deterrent.

  3. bloomer_auon 16 May 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Heh, I know what you mean about the mystery of their appeal. But touring with Bjork can’t have hurt.

    The few conversations I’ve had about them with random folk usually end with someone saying, ‘The sounds of liposuction? Only YOU would listen to something like that!’

  4. THE 2008 REVIEW | themilkfactoryon 03 Feb 2012 at 12:35 am

    […] Supreme Balloon Matador […]