Matmos ~ The Consuming Flame: Open Exercises in Group Form

The new triple album from Matmos is at turns fascinating, confounding, enlightening, humorous, maddening, timely and brilliant.  In terms of ambition and scope, it’s one of 2020’s most significant releases.  Like it, hate it, think it overblown or too subdued, listeners will likely agree that there’s nothing like it on the market, and as such, it deserves to be heard.  It’s also worth mentioning that this may be the most interesting album with the least interesting cover since the White Album, which given the predilections of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel is certainly intentional, and likely an artistic commentary.  It’s also a test for our site, as we were tempted to substitute a more beguiling image on our home page, knowing that some people won’t click on what seems bland. But then we figured, it’s their loss for judging an album by its cover.

One of the greatest challenges is that the album is meant to be consumed as a continuous listen.  Few people have blocks of three hours at their disposal.  To aid the process, the album is offered both as 44 tracks and as three hour-long mixes, one per disc.  In keeping with the theme of consumption, the first piece incorporates the sound of a soda can being popped open.  The difference between the soda and the album is that we have no idea of these contents until we’ve drained the musical can.  What we do know is that the entire album unfurls at 99 beats per minute, features 99 collaborators, and despite such wild ambition never mentions luftballons.

“I, Voxelman” promises “more of the music you listen to,” but this is no radio set, despite three early singles.  It’s fair to ask why singles are being released (save for promotion) when we’re supposed to be listening for three hours straight, but they do open a few windows to let the breeze in.  “lo! Lavender River Karez” features Yo La Tengo and is found on Disc 2; the piece is relatively ambient and dreamy, yet eventually gives way to canned laughter and snippets of discussion.  “I’m On the Team,” the short closing piece of the same disc, features Giant Swan and Rabit, is packed with vocoder and percussion, and includes a phrase oft-repeated throughout the set: “I am an extraterrestrial master.”  Then there’s that crazy collage video for “No Concept,” which is actually Disc One’s “No Concept,” “In the Shape of Beasts” and the beginning of “Revelatory Mint Clot” mixed together.  The collage fits the concept, but with so many abstractions and possible messages, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

So what is the duo trying to say?  The project reflects on the excess and the disconnect of the modern era, where truth, fake news and alternative facts are all given equal weight.  The mystical number 23 is embedded in the video, along with a pair of rose-colored glasses.  Pop-up boxes appear within boxes, like nonsensical clickbait.  The Renaissance meets The Simpsons.  An eye wanders, but never blinks.

Over the course of three hours, Matmos keeps their eyes open as well.  “I’m fine I’m fine,” one title declares, but we know that nobody’s fine right now; we’re all experiencing different degrees of not-fine.  The absurd meets the pointed in the perfect “Platformailism”: “We met on Tinder, we died soon after, a poison dinner, no more laughter / Politics, I win, how glad am I?”  Without stratification, all thoughts ~ sensical and non-sensical, demanding and disposable ~ become a stagnant soup akin to channel switching, an indictment not only of our attention deficit, but of our moral deficit as well.

With 99 contributors, there’s room for all genres, from progressive rock to percussive electronics, machine drone to Asian abstraction, disheveled funk to field recordings, Krautrock to country, even some yodeling.  We hear squeaky toys and TVs, babies and broken glass, handclaps and mangled rap. This potpourri is pungent.  Three hours can wear one out; there’s almost too much to comprehend. After return trips, it all begins to make a perverse sort of sense, which means we’ve either lost our minds or learned to adapt: a perfect commentary on our current conundrum.  (Richard Allen)

Release date 21 August; pre-order here

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