Matmos - Supreme Balloon
Supreme Balloon (Matador, 2008)
Download: Matmos - "Rainbow Flag"
Download: Matmos - "Polychords"
Electronic duo Matmos are the pop music spiritual descendants of a school of music which mandated that any compositions made must have sounds that originated from concrete, natural, inherently non-musical objects. Indeed, the criteria for "concrete music" is that it must "strive to begin with the 'concrete' sounds, experiment with them, and abstract them into musical compositions."
It should come as no surprise, then, that the nom de electronics of Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt, both children of doctors, have used this radical doctrine to effectively dissect the notions of what sounds can truly constitute music as listeners know and perceive it (i.e., making melodies with sounds used in medical procedures, the concept behind their 2001 effort A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure.
Thing is, there's only so much creativity you can exercise when you put yourselves under such strict constraints. The opportunity for artistic breakthrough exists, certainly, but so does the risk of sinking under the weight of your own gimmick (so good to see you, Dogme 95.) One way of keeping yourself afloat in the stormy waters of your own tenets is to actually reject, or at least redefine, them. That logic seems to be the guiding principle behind the Matmos' latest release, (which was made available in stores this past Tuesday), Supreme Balloon. This time, instead of creating music using only so-called "natural" objects, they've made music with only using synthesizers; a choice in instrumentation that arguably allows the least amount, if any, of possibilities for making organic sounds. Not only that, but no microphones were used in the recording of the album.
So how does such a bold strategy hold up? Surprisingly well, though there certainly are flaws. Supreme Balloon starts out very strong, with the Electro-Bossa Nova of "Rainbow Lamp" setting an extremely good-natured mood for the album. "Polychords" and "Motor Mouth" follows in "Lamps"' footsteps bouncy, idiosyncratic marches that segue into the futuristic hip-hop synth lines popularized, if not pioneered, by the likes of Missy Elliott and Timbaland.
However, things start to go awry after the energy and novelty of the approach wear off. While the title track contains most of the album's gorgeous, ambient plateus, it's also a 24-minute mini-electronic opera that I doubt I'll have the time to sit through it again. Conversely, the electronic jiminy-cricket jump-pop of "Exciter Lamp" provides the ideal video-game soundtrack to pretty much anything you do. The problem? No one ever decided to pop in "Super Mario Bros. 3" to listen to its sweet, sexy jams. (As far as I know).
Furthermore, out of the two brief instrumental passages on Supreme Balloon, one of them, the pseudo-classical "Les Folies Francais" is a complete dud. Fortunately, the otherworldy sound collages of "Cloudhopper" help conclude the record with a sense of euphora that one might only get whilst floating in the sky. Supreme Balloon highs help buoy the artificial lows that come with the risk-taking territory. Artificiality never sounded so unadulterated.
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