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Music Reviews

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Supreme Balloon

Rating: 7/10 ?

April 30, 2008
The premise of an all-synthesizer Matmos album was enticing, a notion that perhaps even elicited drool from anyone frustrated by the slew of found-sound concept albums the band has been releasing steadily since their third full length, The West, a highly sought, out-of-print mini-masterpiece, almost a decade ago. After the duo of Drew Daniels and M.C. Schmidt seemingly maxed out their niche with the expansive and delirious The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast (the concept: um… insanity?) in 2006, the decision to take a step back, though not without merits, also comes across as just that: a step back.

Supreme Balloon begins with the album's lead single, "Rainbow Flag," and quickly Daniels and Schmidt establish an interesting pattern of simple rhythmic passages building up Nintendo noises into crescendos of glitch-y melodies and counter-melodies. The element of electric samples and seemingly endless innovation seems to have been put on hold while the pair simply enjoys themselves in what one would assume to be a gear-head freak-out (Matador has been touting the wide variety of keyboards and synths the band used on this album since the it's announcement).

But Supreme Balloon's vintage synthesizers and basic drumbeats make for the least sonically varied of Matmos' recent albums. The Civil War found them snaring Americana from traditionalist groups and bending it to a polarizing effect, and The Rose Has Teeth… found them turning everything from, apparently, hair and cigarette butts to type-writers and spoken-word samples into danceable grooves and interesting sub-cultural commentary. Much of Supreme Balloon plays out like a thesis on the uses the uses of well… vintage keyboards and gear.

The album sometimes unfolds like a drugged out piano recital. "Les Follies Francaises," for all it's worth, fails to impress sonically, and although it is possible to find redemption in the sheer virtuosity (and inherent strangeness) of the piece, it doesn't make it any less boring. This is arguably the listener's dilemma throughout many portions of the record. The lack of aural shock ("What? This record is made up of surgical noises?"; "That beat is made with an old typewriter?") makes the songs stand up for themselves, and while some hold their own impressively, at times you wish they'd throw in some crazy, awe-inspiring samples or thrift-store noises.

"Polychords" is where the "cosmic pop" sound seems to fully flower and truly embodies everything that makes this album work: a simple drumbeat that compounds into electronic clapping, with melodies running laps around the beat. Ambient backing and interesting breakdowns make for an exciting and compact nugget of squiggly keyboard bliss.

Many would argue that the true gem in the mix is the title track, a 24-minute acceleration of long drones of keyboard bits that expand and embellish upon themselves. The cut eventually blooms into a competent genre exercise that would find anyone from Brian Eno to Klaus Dinger proud; but, alas, it's only an exercise- "Autobahn" it is not.

And so goes the listener with this album: those in need of a break from electrified hair samples and beats constructed from snippets of the sucking noises snatched from outpatient cosmetic surgery might find solace in this album (possibly their first chance to glimpse the duo in an unadorned sonic form), but so much of this record fails to impress in the way their last few have: a band rife with sonic surprises decides to make a record with, outside of the first few minutes, no sonic surprises. That's the headline here.

Reviewed by Cory Tendering
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Cory Tendering



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