If there’s such a thing as a seven album itch, then Matmos have it on Supreme Balloon. In this case the extramarital stimulus is the synthesizer, and more specifically the models of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. So if names such as Arp, Waldorf and Moog have you salivating, this record will have you in seventh heaven.
Previously the imagination of this duo has known no limits, so that they’ve sampled all manner of animal noises, famous people and bodily emissions (don’t ask!), and it comes as no surprise to find this record taking a similarly creative approach to the keyboard. But this isn’t cleverness for cleverness’ sake, it’s two people getting a huge kick out of their instruments, making some fine music while they do it.
In the course of an album celebrating early synthesizers, it seems only right to pay homage to Wendy Carlos, which the duo achieve in their arrangement of Louis Couperin’s Les Folies Francaises, a lightly shimmering update that anyone owning Switched On Bach will relate to immediately. Yet this is just one aspect of the album’s personality. Rainbow Flag is a sophisticated kind of electronic bossa nova, charming and exotic.
Polychords sounds like it should be an exercise on page 110 of The Complete Keyboard Player, but it’s actually a stilted, march-like blend of soft background chords and foreground electronic chattering. Elsewhere the exoticism rubs off in tracks such as Exciter Lamp, which takes a simple melody and dresses it up in all manner of colourful voices, splicing and dicing to humourous effect. Mister Mouth is similarly virtuosic, its complex polyphony and occasional rhythmic impetus at times jarring or euphoric.
This is an album of two halves, the first five tracks brief and virtuosic, but all a prelude to the mighty title track, which is a twenty-five minute, one movement suite that manages to pay homage to Steve Reich, Brian Eno and Vangelis in the course of its journey. The achievement of this piece of music can be gauged by the fact it doesn’t overstay its welcome, developing its source material carefully yet within a tight structure.
With this Matmos show their potential not just for brief but concentrated soundbites, but for longer, more classically-derived structures. Their flair for using the old instruments shouldn’t be set aside, as on this record it seems to have inspired them to greater heights.