Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Thrill Jockey
“[T]he history of American housework is, in essence, the history of American industrialization and its transformative effects on people’s daily lives.”– Never Done: A History of American Housework by Susan Strasser As often as domestic innovations are taken for granted by those with access, Matmos’ conceptual offerings throughout their career have been taken much too seriously for their materiality, such that our critical frames (even when bent into goofy smiles) have always seemed inherently limited by their super-specific source material. For those familiar with M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel’s concept-driven composition style, there isn’t much that’s surprising here, yet there isn’t much like it either.
For everyone who’s grown up doing their own laundry, especially those of us with a musical ear, the rhythmic hum of a washing machine has always been an entrancing experience. So if ever there was a pair of artists who could translate the aquatic mechanics of a washing machine into brilliant art pop, it’s MC Schmidt and Drew Daniel of Matmos. Over the last 15 years, the Baltimore-based duo has managed to compose intelligent electronic music from source samples culled from surgical procedures, 16th-century war music and even parapsychological experiments.
Supposedly, Matmos's last album was about an idea in Drew Daniel's head, which he tried to convey to a series of test subjects via telepathy. But really the album was about all of the other "abouts" that spun off from that (still) secret idea. The music's perverse composition method, spread of collaborators and bizarre jumble of styles drew attention to the double meanings and misunderstandings that cluster around any piece of art.
Compared to the inspirations for Matmos' earlier albums -- which include telepathy and plastic surgery -- a washing machine seems prosaic. However, this simplicity gives Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt the perfect showcase for their skill at transforming sounds into art. Named for the Whirlpool model they used to record the album, Ultimate Care II takes listeners through an entire cycle, literally and figuratively: its single 38-minute track matches the time the machine takes to wash a load of laundry.
There’s a scene in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth where Michael Caine’s retired maestro Fred Ballinger is shown alone on a Swiss hillside, listening to birds and a herd of cows. He stands, raises his hands and starts conducting nature – moos, tweets and cowbells shaking in a glorious cacophony. At once daft and profound, it suggests he can find inspiration, and music, in everything.
If you ever worry like electronic music is getting stale or formulaic, turn to Matmos. Baltimore-based musical and life partners Drew Daniel and Martin 'MC' Schmidt have been reinventing electronic soundmaking on a regular basis for two decades, and on the evidence of this latest album they're as full of childlike excitement about it as they've ever been. Matmos are kind of a US counter-part to their friend and sometime collaborator Matthew Herbert: like him their records are created with extraordinary intellectual input and often barmy concepts, but manage to have a sense of fun about them too.
Throughout their long, prolific and adventurous career, Matmos have crafted engrossing art based on thought-provoking and often bizarre themes such as creating records from field recordings, sampling medical instruments or using ESP to transmit song ideas to one other. But Ultimate Care II may be the duo's most out-there album yet, purely because of the perceived banality behind its very concept. Recorded in their basement, the duo of Drew Daniel and M.C.
Matmos share ground and sometimes even releases with Matthew Herbert, utilising real world sounds to form dance tracks and experimental pieces. Whereas with Herbert one sometimes feels the need to put some research in first, here the fact that every sound comes from a washing machine is flagged up fairly obviously in many places. While the cynical may snigger behind their hands at this degree of conceptualisation, it makes for a suprisingly tight, focused release.
Most people become familiar with washing machines before we can walk or talk: large, square objects equipped with hatches that harness the power of water and emit convoluted sounds while operational. This most-stationary of household appliances offers an unsanctioned introduction to notions of cleanliness, order, chaos, and noise — and inspires a tantalizing peek into mystery, the forbidden. Now, let’s be real.
In his recent book The Other Paris, Luc Sante describes an annual ritual of the city's laundresses, who numbered close to 100,000 by the end of the 19th century: "Every lavoir would elect a queen and all the employees would parade, merrily borrowing the finest accoutrements that had been left with them for cleaning. " Nobody outside of detergent commercials dances up to a washing machine. We sweat through clothes on Saturday night; we reluctantly clean them Sunday afternoon.
I caught Matmos as an opening act in late 2000. Just before they began their performance, they explained that they were going to have their backs turned to us because they believed the view would be more interesting for the audience. They were right. They slurped on straws, plucked the iron bars of an animal cage, and played film footage of the slow pan of the skin of some mammal (I think).
Baltimore-based experimental electronic duo Matmos have never shied away from a concept. They originally rose to prominence in the late ’90s with their predilection for deconstructing “found sounds” into dance music far too intelligent to be categorized as simply “IDM.” Their 2001 album, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, was an epiphany, taking sounds from the operating theater to create a visceral meditation on plastic surgery. Two years later, they returned with The Civil War, their most gorgeous album, exploring the sounds of historical folk music.
Baltimore’s Electronic duo Matmos returns this week with a new concept album, this time forgetting the sounds of “the amplified neural activity of crayfish” or the sweet chops of “freshly cut hair” and making way for a single 38-minute long track made solely from sampling the sounds of a (now discontinued) Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine. For this venture, Daniel and Schmidt are joined by a host of local friends, including Dan Deacon, Max Eilbacher and Sam Haberman from Horse Lords’, as well as Jason Willett of Half Japanese and Duncan Moore of Needle Gun. Unfalteringly postmodern in both its method, subject matter, and the ideals it questions, the concept is interesting albeit a little tired and hackneyed.
If last month was teeming with a strong assortment of bouncy electro pop, then this one was chock-full of indie rock releases. Carl wasn't too impressed with most of these month's rock-oriented offerings, including Wolfmother's brazen return, while Juan was somewhat disappointed with those that ….