ALBUM REVIEW: Matmos celebrates a bittersweet ‘Plastic Anniversary’

Matmos, Plastic Anniversary

With the Great Pacific Garbage Patch reaching an estimated 1.6 million square kilometers, the long-term negatives of plastic have begun to overshadow its short-term usefulness. The double-edged sword of plastic’s bio resistance is on the mind of experimental San Francisco power couple Matmos on Plastic Anniversary. With their 11th album, Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel recorded a plethora of exclusively plastic instruments—and non-instruments. The results are suitably weird and surprisingly compelling for such a lauded project within post-industrial, glitch music and intelligent dance music (IDM).

Plastic Anniversary
Thrill Jockey Records, March 15

Plastic Anniversary pushes Matmos’ idiosyncrasy to the limit through innovative sound collages. Opener “Breaking Bread” lives up to its title in the oddest way, created by amplifying the shards of records by the soft rock band Bread. Instead of sampling the LPs’ contents, Schmidt and Daniel generate tonality from the discs themselves. The resulting beat music recalls avant-garde composers like Conrad Schnitzler, without overemphasizing the novelty of what’s actually being recorded. “The Singing Tube” may incorporate toilet brushes into a stumbling shuffle, but this makeshift approach still encompasses a well-rounded, convincing sonic spectrum.

The 11-second “Extending The Plastisphere To GJ237b” is the one cut where pretention outweighs songwriting. There’s little to appreciate from the 11-second burst of staccato robot effects—outside of the fact it was performed entirely on a salad bowl, and named after the exoplanet it was beamed to by a high-power radio transmitter. The rest of Plastic Anniversary is as entertaining as it is novel. Single “The Crying Pill” evokes a Berlin school take on “Hall of the Mountain King,” combining ominous dissonance with dizzying rhythm with everything from a Roland Space-Echo to ATM cards and exercise balls.

The musicality of this album should be emphasized, considering its left-field orchestration. The title track recalls some of Sigur Rós’s instrumentals. It seamlessly evolves from clattering poker chips to victorious trumpet, trombone and breezy flute. Similarly, the massive horn arrangements on “Fanfare For Polyethylene Waste Containers” almost sound like a post-industrial rendition of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” Both tracks maintain a pulsing bed of composite beats, injecting danceable groove into these explorative songs.

Matmos revels in their chosen direction, naming several songs after their primary “instruments.” “Silicone Gel Implant” and “Interior With Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat” leave nothing to the imagination. The former achieves a vibe of Latin-tinged 8-bit music charged with syncopated percussion and quirky PVC pipe flute melodies. The song’s balance of distorted and euphonic tones carries over into the latter cut–which jumps from lowercase ambiance to lo-fi hip-hop and noise.

The brutal industrial hip-hop of “Thermoplastic Riot Shield” and reggaeton feel of “Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom” exemplify how seamlessly Matmos manages to achieve grand musical statements on Plastic Anniversary. The two cuts respectively deliver a visceral attack worthy of Death Grips and a constantly evolving synthetic drum circle. Whether the sounds come exclusively from riot police gear or have their foundation jostling LEGO bricks and layered whistles, Plastic Anniversary conserves a vibrant semblance of trippy electronica.

The album closes with the alien field recording “Plastisphere.” The oceanic static and distant creaks are seemingly transmitted directly from the song’s namesake—primitive ecosystems formed on plastic debris. It takes the record full circle, acknowledging the problematic permanence of plastic, while demonstrating its true depth as a musical medium. Until we find a way to blast our trash into outer space, we can at least take solace in the fact all this excess plastic made another awesome Matmos album possible.

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