My first reaction to the news that Matmos and So Percussion came together went a little something like this: “Huh.” They’re both known for their unconventional techniques; Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt (a.k.a. Matmos) put out a 2001 electronic album entitled A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure based around samples of surgical procedures, while NYC percussion quarter So Percussion’s performances of pieces by the likes of Steve Reich, Arvo PÃ¤rt, and John Cage often include anything hit-able, from traditional drums to aluminum pipes and flower pots. Heck, a press release for their supporting tour announced the use of aluminum space blankets, beer cans, and an “amplified cactus.” Obviously, they’re both comfortable experimenting with the source of musical sound. Plus, despite working in different genres, they have some musical similarities: They’re both comfortable with repetition, with combining the unusual or abrasive with the melodic or musical.
The album’s title is a nickname of Montana’s, so, going on the conceptual route that Matmos often take, this all should somehow be about Montana. Each track, then, has a title that both evokes the imagery the music does and also is likely the instrument that is used by the musicians. Now, I’ve never been to Montana, so I can’t say whether this album is the encapsulation of the landscape, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes close.
Despite the album’s occasional falters into overly nice, elevator music territory, the two groups come together rather well. The opening track of Treasure State, “Treasure”, sounds much like the polyrhythmic, twinkling, sometimes barking backing tracks on Dan Deacon’s Bromst (So Percussion did perform with him when he debuted his tracks live). The track is fun, twee, adorable, but ambling, never quite going anywhere; The climactic moment halfway in is the sound of a fizzling synth farting away before everything comes right back. The looping steel drum on “Water” flows beautifully, a minimalist theme sloshing about, splashes of water adding to the effect. The tinkling glockenspiel and Muzak horn that follow, though, ripple through the ambiance, rather than adding to it.
“Needles” is where I’m assuming the amplified cactus comes into the picture. Twittering, cricket-y rattling sounds play underneath popping sounds and what may be muted marimba tones comes off like a sputtering cartoon car engine. That is, until swashes of hovering synth pulse through like a UFO hovering over the road. The squealing skronktronica of “Cross” comes out of left field. “Shard” features cowbell chimes and percussive junkyard skittering in a musique concrete mixture. This is the first track that seems to truly represent So Percussion’s half of the deal, rather than making an album as Matmos featuring So Percussion. Similarly, “Swamp” has all the minimalist scraping and crunching with high pitched synth squeals.
While the first half seems to be So Percussion acting as Matmos’ backing band, the second half flips the script, allowing for fans of either type of music (electronic or musique concrete) to find a new, exciting version of their interest. Everything seems intentional, controlled, and added to an end that is reached. If the two halves of the album could be better unified, there’d be a much greater album, but this isn’t bad for a first time collaboration.