Matmos – Supreme Balloon

"In fact that’s the best description that I can give of this track – Harmonia jamming with Terry Riley. Exactly."

Matmos – Supreme Balloon (Matador)


 


Matmos, on paper, are a somewhat joyless prospect; all theories and restraints, intellectual boffins setting themselves challenges based around what they can sample next. Supreme Balloon follows the usual pattern: no samples taken from a cow’s reproductive parts this time; instead we get an album made up completely from old school synths and computers. A more limited range of sound sources then, but at least they didn’t need to wash their hands with the frequency they did on The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast album.


 


The point about Matmos, however, is that however they source their samples, and for whatever reason they choose to do so, the music always stands up. It is never dry and academic. On the contrary it is usually fun and fizzing with wit and humour.


 


The album starts with Rainbow Flag. After a gentle opening the synths go demented, as though they are laughing at you. There’s a bit of a jazzy break and plenty of squiggles and shrieks going on in the background. It continually evolves – now it sounds as though there’s woozy brass, now it sounds like an air-raid siren is going off. But all through this the poppy core of the song remains. It’s bubbly and infectious and ever so slightly mad.


 


Polychords kicks off with big keyboard stabs and a military beat before chilling out into another poppy little number. It breaks down for some gurgling and pitch-shifting before finding its rhythm again. It’s a bit like a pop song crossed with a laser battle in a science fiction film. In a good way. Mister Mouth is squelchy and bleepy. If the first few songs are poppy then this one is all about the beat; it’s almost a mini techno master class.


 


Exciter Lamp and the Variable Band features static, micro beats and the sound of a malfunctioning hoover. It then all goes seriously weird when a high-pitched and speeded up version of O Canada appears.


 


Les Folies Francaises immediately transports you to the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange and the work of Wendy Carlos. The reason is that the Baroque composer Francois Couperin wrote the track. It manages to be a loving homage whilst also being delightfully dotty.


 


The centrepiece of the album is the title track, all twenty-four minutes of it. What preceded it were effectually miniatures – here is the real deal. The song starts with a long drone before a subterranean beat begins to pulse in the background. Then the synths begin and the languid way that the track builds is pure Krautrock – not the pulsing beats of Neu! but the pastoral rhythms of Harmonia. In fact there are times when you could be mistaken for thinking that you were listening to the recently unearthed Harmonia 74 live album. One of the main differences is the production – rough and ready on the Harmonia album but glistening and smooth here. Oh, and another difference is this: it sounds like Terry Riley turned up to play on it too. In fact that’s the best description that I can give of this track – Harmonia jamming with Terry Riley. Exactly.


 


Cloudhoppers returns to the brief works that make up the remainder of the album. Chiming bells, gentle keyboard waves, the album slowly fades away.


 


Except that it fades into a couple of bonus tracks on the CD version. The first of these, at fifteen minutes, contains ten minutes of silence (why do they have to do this?) before techno beats appear. The second bonus track is actually eight seconds of silence. Whoop-di-do. On the other hand, if you find yourself on itunes you can pick up four genuine bonus tracks, the standout one being Hashish Master (featuring Terry Riley).


 


Words: Chris Dawson