For an act as eccentric and leftfield as the experimental Matmos (Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt), the band actually had a surprisingly close call with the mainstream a decade ago when working as producers on Bjork’s Vespertine album and going on tour with her off the back of that. My first memory of the band was seeing footage of them behind Bjork, almost stealing the limelight from one of modern music’s most compelling characters by creating beats using trays of ice set up near floor-level microphones or by rubbing each other with stethoscopes to create the crackle of static for “Cocoon.” This is a band that is just as interested in the process involved in creating the sound as they are in the sound itself.
Even by their standards, however, The Marriage of True Minds is frankly insane. Apparently the result of parapsychological experiments in which the band tried to project the concept of the album onto the minds of test subjects (I told you it was insane), it is at the very least unlikely to be topped by any other band this year for the sheer originality of its inception.
The result is unsurprisingly something of a mixed bag. At its best, it’s very good indeed and represents the best of Matmos in the band’s ability to craft genuinely likeable music out of the most unusual parts. On the other hand, it’s also maddeningly opaque at times, which relegates it to a fascinating curiosity rather than an album that can be recommended without reservation.
The Marriage of True Minds starts well enough. “You” opens with the sound of tap dancing and acts as a warm and gentle beginning to the album, one that undercuts its bizarre inception. The first hints of that experiment come with the hummed melody of “Very Large Green Triangles” (triangles seem to have been the key image of this project), which then switches to become almost a club hit, with a driving beat and a chiming melody that actually sounds like something the Prodigy might have come up with in those rave-era days before they achieved world domination in the late-nineties.
“Mental Radio,” an appropriate title if ever there was one, has beats constructed out of, amongst other things, the sound of sloshing water. Midway through, the song morphs into what sounds like a carnival in a laboratory, complete with muted but joy-filled horns, to complete a largely successful opening triptych, one that displays avant-garde experimentalism at its most welcoming. This is clearly due to the gleeful nature of making these songs from such weird and wonderful ingredients.
Around this point, the album starts to get truly weird. “Ross Transcript” is the sound of one guy staying behind in said laboratory to mess around with the equipment after hitting the Record button. “In Search of a Lost Faculty” basically collects comments by the test subjects who repeatedly talk about triangles over a creepy, dissonant backdrop. This goes on for six minutes.
The Marriage of True Minds ends the only way it really can: with a cover of Buzzcocks’ “ESP” that begins as slow doom metal and unfolds bafflingly into celebratory psychedelia as the song progresses. It’s at this point that any criticism becomes moot, because as much as the members of Matmos are serious craftsmen, there are moments in this album that feel like a joke being played on the listener, with a definite sense of mischief mixed in with their boundary-pushing approach. The album is undeniably weird in the truest sense of the word, but it is also a real middle finger to anyone who laments the fact that nobody tries anything new anymore. You might not want to listen to them all the time, but in the end, music needs bands like Matmos.
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