Following the critical success of their last full-length The West, San Francisco-based electronic duo Matmos push their rhythmic collage tendencies even further on their Matador debut, sidestepping that record’s pastoral orientation in favor of an electro cut-up concept album that samples recordings of plastic surgery and medical technology.
After gaining the trust and cooperation of surgeons and patients, the band was allowed to record in operating rooms and clinics. Back in the studio, Matmos performed surgery of their own upon the sounds they had gathered, building rhythms from the clanks, rasps and snips of the scalpel, kick drums from the sound of bones being broken, and rich drones from the buzz of human skin conducting electricity through acupuncture points.
Matmos members M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel (both doctors’ sons) felt that a “dark” record would be too easy to make out of such Grand Guignol content. Instead, they make surprisingly approachable, quasi-pop music by combining these extremist sound sources with drums and guitars played by some of the crew from The West (Steve Goodfriend of Radar Bros./For Carnation, Mark Lightcap of Acetone). The result is challenging sound art that you can tap your toes to.
“Lipostudio (And So On...)” pairs the shuffling, squelching sound of human fat being sucked during liposuction surgery with squalls of clarinet played by Stephen Thrower (currently of Cyclobe, formerly of Coil), only to shift mid-song into a stripped-down, melodic quasi-rock song that drifts “West”-ward, complete with guest voices from a galaxy of the US electronic scene’s glitchiest (Kid 606, Lesser, Blectum, Hrvatski). No puns about “fat” beats, please.
After a lengthy opening blast of electrical interference, “L.A.S.I.K.” turns into click-happy electro scored for the sounds of laser eye surgery, complete with encouragement from the doctor and drugged murmurs from the patient, a willing participant and friend of the band.
Turning an audiologist testing deaf children into an unlikely house diva, “Spondee” makes directly for the dancefloor (complete with horns, steady 4/4 kicks and a ConFunkShun-esque handclap) only to ooze into lazy twang and end with sinus-scouring full frequency sweeps and a murky lecture on the anatomy of the cochlea.
The tranquil melodic ambience of “For Felix” massages you couchward, then swerves into jittery improv played entirely upon the bowed and plucked bars of a rat cage, memorializing the bands deceased pet while evoking the broader context of laboratory animal research.
With its distorted fog of theremin-esque tone clouds and vaudeville skiffle action, “Memento Mori” would be totally scary funk even if it wasn’t fashioned out of a human skull.
The album closes with the epic “California Rhinoplasty” in which a nose flute slinks across intricate layers of nose job samples and warm tonal waves are generated by the electric hum of muscle tissue being cauterized.
As a theme (did someone say concept album here?) “medical technology” proves to be loose enough to include a wide variety of sounds, while nonetheless tying together this unusual suite of songs into a unified meditation on science, the body, mortality and other dancefloor-friendly topics. A Chance to Cut is A Chance to Cure shows the band at the height of their powers, making ambitious and distinctly new music from an unexpected source.
Matmos has remixed Bjork, Kid 606, and Otomo Yoshihide, toured with Lesser, Labradford and Rachel’s, and is currently working with Bjork, Matthew Herbert and the Kronos Quartet on collaborative projects.