Matmos ~ Plastic Anniversary

We’ve always known that Matmos could be fun, but we never knew how funny they could be ~ until we watched the video, “How To Turn Your Plastic Into Audio Gold.” The couple is entertaining enough to host their own TV show.  They’ve been together 25 years, and this album marks their dual anniversary in love and music.  The most endearing plastic instrument is “a plastic fish fashioned into a jock strap – the very same fish that Daniel was wearing as a go-go dancer when he met Schmidt in San Francisco.”  Magic!

While many of Matmos’ early albums used samples in a manner that could be construed as dark ~ especially 2001’s A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, which included the sounds of surgery, blood and a human skull ~ 2016’s Ultimate Care II was comprised wholly of sounds from a Whirlpool washing machine and was one of our favorite albums of that year.  Plastic Anniversary continues in this vein, celebrating the sounds of plastic in its various forms.  As I write, I am playing with a plastic Trop50 bottle, having finished the orange juice within and now enjoying its sonic properties ~ something that comes naturally to children but not as much to adults.  This album, like its predecessor, helps to put listeners in touch with their inner children.  After all, who doesn’t like popping plastic bubbles or tapping out a rhythm on a garbage can?  The duo references The Blue Man Group, but Stomp is another obvious reference, along with the solo work of Diego Stucco.

But the duo pushes the sound even further, utilizing broken Bread records as twang, as seen in the video.  (One wonders if the 78-year-old David Gates might comment, “It don’t matter to me.”)  Kid-friendly Legos and plastic trumpets find happy homes, along with the more PG-13 sounds of breast implants and synthetic flesh, harboring back to A Chance to Cut.  The liner notes alone are a joy to read.  And through it all, one thinks of plastic as waste, an image first prompted by the cover and underlined by the unplayable special vinyl edition, which contains embedded bottles.  Closing track “Plastisphere” makes one think of the plastic island floating in the Pacific, but awareness has seldom seemed this enjoyable ~ and for those who are wondering, the release is made out of 100% recycled material, while proceeds of the vinyl go to The Ocean Cleanup.

But what about the music?  Wonderfully, the music is more than a match for the materials.  In the opening minutes, “Breaking Bread” puts everyone (except perhaps the aforementioned Gates) in a good mood.  Percussive and playful, the track invites head bobs, dancing and home percussion.  Those who enjoyed the latter stages of Ultimate Care II will find that the bulk of the album produces the same sense of gleeful abandon.  The multiple layers of “Crying Pill” (which refers to the big blue device on the cover) come across like a legion of choreographed dancers, and while the track seems to overflow with bass, everything’s plastic, the keyboard sampler acting as translator.  And there’s no mistaking the sound of billiard bills on the subsequent piece, which reminds one of the satisfying sounds of pool (even if one’s best skill is racking the balls).  One suspects this is the first time pool balls have been paired with synthetic fat, but that’s part of the fun.  As Aqua sings, “Life is plastic; it’s fantastic!”

The title track (and second single) is a revelation.  Members of Montana’s Whitefish High School Bulldogs were invited to the sessions, and make the track a horn festival on the level of Sigur Rós’ “Se Lest.”  We can imagine this becoming the duo’s first crossover hit.  Enormously catchy, the track brings an instant smile to the face.  The marching band returns later on “Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom,” wielding plastic drumsticks and Lego bricks; this must have been the field trip of a lifetime.

Plastic Anniversary achieves the rare feat of being both unique and accessible.  The party whistles of “Collapse” make the album sound like the celebration it is.  Happy silver anniversary, Drew and M.C. ~ we wish you many more!  (Richard Allen)

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