The word “weird” has so many negative connotations, though it’s an apt (and 100% positive) label to toss at the San Francisco-turned-Baltimore electronic duo Matmos. Masterminds M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel twisted heads right out the door with their 1998 self-titled debut by sampling the nerve activity of crayfishes (!), and once listeners became desensitized to that, they induced vomiting with recordings of bonesaws and other effects related to liposuction on 2001’s near-perfect A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. Over the past decade, they’ve dialed things down a notch — their collaborations alongside BjÃ¶rk aided in that, strangely enough — and on their Thrill Jockey debut, The Marriage of True Minds, the oddities are stomached for a healthy dose of chaos.
For this entry, Schmidt and Daniel conducted a four-year long parapsychological experiment (read: the Ganzfeld experiment) on a group of volunteers, capturing sounds as they carried on each test. As they explained: If a subject hummed something, that became a melody; passing visual images suggested arrangement ideas, instruments, or raw materials for a collage; if a subject described an action, then the band members had to act out that out and make music out of the noises generated in the process of the re-enactment.
Because of this, much of Marriage rumbles by as a scrambled transmission. The unstable “Ross Transcript” bounces between troubled gurgling, distant dogs barking, dusty wind, isolated ’70s telephones, and the nagging drones of GyÃ¶rgy Ligeti. While “In Search of a Lost Faculty” floats in space under the direction of the aforementioned volunteers, who describe various activities that are then brought to life. It all changes at breakneck speeds, but it retains a cinematic style that altogether feels organic in nature.
And while the album’s weighed down by an interstellar second half — seriously, the eight-minute closing madness of “ESP” would make your decades-old 56k modem crack in fear — there’s an earthy sensibility that mucks up a few of Marriage‘s tracks. The creaky wooden whispers behind “You”, the jar-rattling spectres of “Very Green Triangles”, and the soaking tribal rhythms of “Mental Radio” echo along as if Schmidt and Daniel stepped into the rugged pastures of a hundred countries and just pushed ‘Record’.
Only two tracks here could really be construed as “normal.” The ambient topography of “Teen Paranormal Romance” sounds lifted from Moby’s earlier worlds, while the progressive house of “Tunnel” tosses and turns like a lost Underworld experiment (at least before the end). That’s not to say either are poor selections, quite the opposite actually, but they’re so scripted in comparison to the album’s seven other selections. It’s as if someone opened the door for a breath of fresh air amidst one of the experiments, allowing some light to eek in — and that’s fine. After all, chaos can’t exist without a touch of clarity, and if that was their intention all along, then consider The Marriage of True Minds a mild breakthrough.
Essential Tracks: “ESP”, “Teen Paranormal Romance”, and “Tunnel”