01 June 2008

Matmos - Supreme Balloon



Just a quick one, hopefully, to add some momentum following the slow blogging month of May. Matador Records charge a lot to send singles to the UK. Being increasingly fond of modern punk rocker Jay Reatard, I am buying his singles as and when they become available. Matador seems to employ a flat rate for shipping costs when it comes to first item, though, as they stick about $22 on the top. That's rather odd for a $3 single, so I decide to make that $22 mean something by ordering an album to accompany it. While I am a slight rube, it is always an album I intend to buy anyway (last time was the rather underwhelming Times New Viking record), so I figure I'm getting an item shipped for free. Just don't put me in charge of the economy or we're (more) fucked.

As you can see from the second picture, there was some slight damage in transit; such is the danger of sending (two) 180-gram slabs of vinyl hurtling over the ocean like some kind of hipster Frisbee. Level Plane records have a better idea: extricate the record (in sleeve) from the packaging so as to prevent it from doing an Oddjob on the surrounding loveliness. And as evinced above (and below), the loveliness in this particular case is great, emphasising the tragedy of its besmirchment. This is my own personal Rape of the Lock.

For the record, Relapse Records is another baddie when it comes to this gatefold immolation; conversely Robotic Empire is thoughtful and thorough in its packaging methods. Shilling complete; free stuff please.

The music itself is lovely. Matmos apparently mentioned Jean-Jacques Perrey and Terry Riley as influences, and while influence of the towering In Sound From Way Out! is audible, my personal aural memory drew comparison with Boards Of Canada's Hi-Scores E.P., all melody and levity pre-Yawntology and seriousness.

I tend to divide the electronic music I encounter into four categories, easily symbolised by areas of human anatomy: head music, as I'm sure you can gather, is the theory stuff which spans a wide region from concrete through IDM even the earnest young bucks of Dubstep; feet, which is dance music obviously*; heart, which is the rarest of electronic musics, but I'd include Vespertine, a lot of Manual's output, as well some H****ology/Ambient stuff like Porn Sword Tobacco, Hulk et al. The last category is the overtly melodic. Perhaps we can call that small intestine music or something. The early Moog stuff was very melodic, as was a lot of BBC Radiophonic Workshop; I suppose it's rather like early video games, the technological limitations thereof forcing developers to focus on 'pure gameplay' rather than the bells and whistles of today’s full-motion-interactive-movie culture.

Funnily enough, some early electronic music was pretty much just bells and whistles.

I digress. I loved this. Didn't quite get it all listened to - I appear to be saving the twenty-four minute title track for a rainy(er) day - but the three sides before that splashed gently over my ears in a delightful and delighting manner. Beyond the initial gimmick (the sticker on the packaging shouted about 'SYNTHS ONLY! NO MICS OR OWT!', which reminded me of the intentional and baffling self-limitation of the likes of Rage Against The Machine ('ALL MUSIC PERFORMED BY US GUILTY PARTIES IS LITERALLY JUST A BASS GUITAR, A REGLIAR ONE, SOME DRUMS AND A DUDE'S VOICE! ISN'T THAT AMAZING. NO, WE SIGNED TO SONY SO WE COULD BRING THE SYSTEM DOWN FROM THE INSIDE, SERIOUSLY') or Iron Maiden ('NO SYNTHS AT ALL! WE'RE LIKE THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT MATMOS WILL BE 28 YEARS FROM NOW. ERR, UNTIL 1986, WHEN WE'LL BE ALL ABOUT SYNTHS. AND SYNTH GUITARS. SORRY ABOUT THAT ONE; IT'LL SEEM LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME')** the music was delightful.

I’m going to have to start a new paragraph now. That one kinda got out of control, despite asterisking control techniques. It should go without saying that I am no subscriber to any single member of the bodypartronica states, the more regions a particular music can straddle, the better for me. So, while I cited Vespertine as heart music, it also resides within the areas of head and small intestine. Not so much the feet, though. LFO is feet, small intestine and no small amount of head, but not the most heart-based of musics I have heard.

Supreme Balloon’s strength lies in its combination of the four. The old breadth/depth trade-off comes into play here, but the original conceit (and execution thereof, aided ably by the likes of Riley and Jay Lesser) is rather head-ly; the most prominent mode of communication here, due to the inherent nature of synthing it up, is small intestine; this retro-activity combined with lovely melodies brings it into heart territory; finally, the sheer unabashed effervescence of the whole brew*** makes one want to dance about the room in wordless joy at the wordless wonderment emanating from the B&W speaker boxes.

Apologies for the lack of content here, though my publication of this particular literary misadventure suggests my apology is not honest. Just wanted to say this is really good, and to share the nice artwork. And also to mention that some of the songs on the record(s) reminded me of Japanese video game soundtracker Koji Kondo, not just in the well thought out construction of the melodies and arrangements, but due more to the fact that they evoked vividly-coloured, rather abstract vistas in my mind. And that those vistas were more naively edifying than the kind of detached cool Rez-scapes that an Amon Tobin or Venetian Snares might cause to bloom in my mind while my eyes are closed and I lie somewhat serenely on my back.

I like both the innocent Technicolor-with-bold-outlines-on-a-sunny-day and the too-cool-for-me-to-legitimately-actually-be-into motifs, so I win either way. Anyway, this is the innocence. But it’s a simplistic innocence masking an endo-skeleton of wires and brains all attached to each other, which is really good because it means I am likely to get more and more out of it the more I listen to it. Which I plan on doing, so this is an exciting time.

* Post-90s, feet music is a preferred mode of musical communication among the electronic music cognoscenti; after the self-proclaimed Intelligent Dance Music clicked and cut its way into something of a cul de sac, it was once again agreed at the electronic village meeting that feet music was more legitimate due to dancing taking precedence over thinking among the no-mates music dorks (of which I am admittedly one) whose sudden self awareness revolted them. It's the Fear Of Pretension, don't you know. Extending this aside somewhat, I always considered 'it's pretentious' to be the single weakest criticism of art in Christendom. Or Mohammedom, Buddhadom or [insert religious figure here]... As Type O Negative said (or more likely quoted): Functionless art is merely tolerated vandalism... we are the vandals.

** Or A Reminiscent Drive. Remember A Reminiscent Drive? (t)He(y?) were all about the 'SYNTHS ONLY. NO GIRLS ALLOWED' mantra way back in the 90s. Mercy Street: eleven years young!

*** Despite talk of ‘brews’ in relation to body parts should in no way be construed as either tacit or articulated endorsement of cannibalistic behaviour. [/disclaimer]

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