Matmos - The Rose Has Teeth In the Mouth of a Beast

"Semen Song for James Bidgood features a string quartet, harp, piano, Anthony (yes, that one), and - you're getting the hang of this by now, I can tell - semen. "


 


Matmos - The Rose Has Teeth In the Mouth of a Beast


 


Matmos, matmos, what are we to make of you? This one has the duo making music from a cow's uterus, for crying out loud. I should explain. Rather like Matthew Herbert's recent releases such as Plat Du Jour Matmos use samples as the basis of their music (but unlike Herbert have no 'rules' when it comes to using 'real' instruments). Previously, for example, they based a whole album on the sounds gathered from plastic surgery operations (A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure). This album, whilst featuring noises gathered from a cow's uterus, also creates sounds from shit, semen, and snails. This might sound disgusting or intriguing, or a combination of the both. But it doesn't sound like music will be the result of it, and certainly not fun music. But you'd be wrong. Augmenting the sounds built up from these unlikely sources are those 'real' instruments and the overall result does, at times, resemble dance and pop music. There might not be choruses but there are certainly tunes and hooks and beats. So what's this album all about then? Well, it's a series of songs for the heroes of the men from Matmos - Ludwig Wittgenstein, William Burroughs, Joe Meek and a good few others you may (or may not) have heard of. On with the show.


 


The album kicks off with Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein. The track features sampled beats, a processed voice and strange scrunches that form a rhythm track. Geese calls appear to intrude at various intervals on the quotation from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations that gives the album its title. And here, in a way, we have the album distilled - high and low art (manure is sampled as well as geese and teeth) thrown together to form something that sits not in between the two but somewhere else entirely. And what does it sound like? Well, whilst it is never going to end up on Top of the Pops (RIP) you can certainly tap your foot to the music whilst pondering on the philosophical conundrums raised. Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan, however, finds Matmos at their most danceable. Well, at the beginning anyway. Funky, fun and displaying a cheeky grin, the song bops away with trumpets, beats and the inevitable sonic squelches and squiggles.


Tract for Valerie Solanis is the one that utilises a cow's uterus, reproductive tract and vagina. Oh, and a vacuum cleaner. I'm pretty sure it was a dead cow's bits, by the way. For what purpose? To provide the backing to a reading of Valerie Solanis' The S.C.U.M. Manifesto. Valerie, you might recall, was the woman who shot Andy Warhol once upon a time. This is the one track on the album that doesn't really work as the vocals dominate to an extent that repeated listening is discouraged. And the noises that follow 'co-manage the shit pile' make this a number to be avoided whilst eating.


Semen Song for James Bidgood features a string quartet, harp, piano, Anthony (yes, that one), and - you're getting the hang of this by now, I can tell - semen. The pace changes here - the song is solemn, stately and very affecting. Anthony's restrained vocals are very poignant. Snails and Lasers for Patricia Highsmith sounds like something from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Lazy and yet full of menace a double bass thrubs away backed by brushed drums. Piano and French horn put the track on a more refined path and more into Barry Adamson territory. And somewhere, somehow, noises are being created by having a light sensitive Theremin manipulated by snails. It's a great song too, especially when the snails eventually win out - as ever - and the electronic effects swamp the track.


Solo Buttons for Joe Meek is great fun - a twanging sci-fi surf song befitting for the man who, among many other things, gave us Telstar. As the song breaks up the strings of the Kronos Quartet sneak in. The electronics are there too, of course, but this song yomps along full of energy and hope. The end of the song, however, is eno-esque and signifies, one presumes, the death of that hope, along with Meek and the landlady he murdered.


Rag for William S. Burroughs epitomises the depth of the album. It kicks off with the sound of a piano rag in a Wild West bar. It is a drunken scene and one where violence is never far away. Right on cue a shot is fired - it is Wild Bill miscuing his William Tell trick. Still, Mrs Burrough's unasked for trepanning turned out to be literature's gain. As Burroughs headed off to South America, North Africa and Paris in a quest for drugs, sex and literary fame, so the song takes an abrupt change of direction too. We hear typewriters and, one presumes, adding machines. William Burroughs was born into a wealthy family, their money coming from the manufacture of the said items. The song then slowly builds up out of these sounds into the rag of the title. The success of the song lies in the fact that it works, as does the album, purely as listening entertainment. You don't need to know that Burrough's shot his wife or that his family made typewriters to enjoy the song, but the fact that the songs are all biographical sound portraits (their phrase not mine) means that the album works on several layers.


 


Finally, and importantly, despite the 'pretentious' nature of the project the album is anything but po-faced. It is laced with wit and warmth. The biological nature of the samples is not lost as they travel the miles of circuitry through samplers and sequencers, nor is it erased by the duos laptops with their binary systems. You might well be advised to wear gloves when greeting the duo, but in their hands shit and semen and everything else have been manipulated into producing one of the year's best albums.


 


Words: Chris Dawson.