Matthew Herbert - Plat du Jour

Herbert recreated the meal that Nigella Lawson cooked for George W Bush when he came over to Britain to meet with Blair. The meal was laid out in a field and then he drove a chieftan mk 10 battle tank over it.




Matthew Herbert is a busy man. As recording artist, label owner and producer (check out the great work he did on Roisin Murphy's album Ruby Blue) he manages to pop up all over the place. As a recording artist he's worked under various aliases knocking out several electro / dance albums. Two years ago, as the Matthew Herbert Big Band, he produced Goodbye Swingtime, an album that kind of mixed trad jazz with laptop glitchiness. You'll just have to take my word for it that this was a great album – I know how it sounds. For Plat du Jour Herbert has made an album about (as you might have guessed) food. Not only that, it is created using samples of food stuffs and food processes.


Bear with me.


The opening track is called The Truncated Life of a Modern Industrialised Chicken. It uses field recordings of 50,000 chickens in commercial hatcheries, of 40 free-range chickens in a coop, and of a free range chicken being killed for a local farmers' market. The melodies and chords were made from samples of eggs on pyrex bowls and the percussion  was made by recording eggs, egg boxes and egg cups being played with chopsticks. The bass line is a 'cheep' from a minute old chick. By now you are probably thinking a few things. Why? What's the point? What does it sound like? A read of the accompanying website will answer the why. It's not my place to answer the second, but as for the third I can tell you that The Truncated Life... is a pretty decent track. It starts with the field recordings and the sound of pans being hit. A beat emerges, as does the sound of chimes (which presumably is the pyrex bowl being hit). The beat becomes pretty muscular and a brittle sort of melody emerges. The sound of a grinding machine appears at one point (that doesn't sound good for the chicks) before a gently jazzy track finally emerges. Could you listen to this song, and indeed the whole album, and think that it had been created on a laptop in someone's bedroom? Quite possibly, though I don't think you need to know about everything that is going on here to realise that there is a very specific focus to this work.


The other tracks are created in much the same way. They are all eminently listenable to – they are catchy, beaty and intriguing. At times the album reminds me of Four Tet's Everything Ecstatic in the way that it never quite lets you feel comfortable – this is not an easy listening album. Part of the reason for this is that Herbert doesn't hide away his field recordings – they are not tastefully lost in the back of the mix. They are as important to Herbert, I think, as the myriad samples he has created out of coffee beans, cereal etc. There are big beats, hyper beats, sonic chatter and interference as well as simple and beautiful melodies. Herbert's skills come across not just in the manipulation of sounds.


Celebrity, for example, is top-notch bit of R&B with Dani Siciliano singing 'Go Gordon! Go Ramsay! Go Beyonce!' over a sharp and sugary backing track. This song is made entirely from food endorsed by celebrities. Herbert even ropes in his own celebrity of sorts – the chef Heston Blumenthal helps him out on a couple of tracks. An Apple A Day features the sound of 3,255 people eating an apple. And so it goes on – Fatter, Slimmer, Faster, Slower features an Atkins diet fried breakfast being cooked. Waste Land features recordings of the sewers below Fleet Street (it sounds as if The Clangers live down there now). The album reaches its pinnacle of genius/madness with Nigella, George, Tony and Me. Herbert recreated the meal that Nigella Lawson cooked for George W Bush when he came over to Britain to meet with Blair. The meal was laid out in a field and then he drove a chieftan mk 10 battle tank over it.


I think you already know if this is the album for you. I will say that not all of the tracks work, but when they do, such as on the irresistibly funky Hidden Sugars, any thoughts of the artifice/pretentiousness/lunacy/right-on-ness fade away and the quality of the music takes over. But, come on – how many albums feature a fucking tank, for crying out loud?


Words: Chris Dawson.