Baltimore-based experimental electronic music duo Matmos certainly can’t be accused of lacking inventiveness, spending much of the last two decades crafting albums from some unusual sources. Inspirations have come from all manner of things including vintage synths and 19th century American folk music, to sampling a plastic surgery operation and amplifying the neural activity of a crayfish. In the lead-up to their previous release, 2013’s The Marriage of True Minds, three years worth of parapsychological experiments were conducted in an effort to transmit the concept of the album telepathically to subjects under sensory deprivation.
So given their past efforts, perhaps it wasn’t all that unusual to learn the concept for their latest release when it was announced last November. For this their ninth full-length, Matmos have decided to craft an album made almost entirely out of sounds sourced from a now discontinued Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine that’s been sitting in the basement of their home since they moved in. Assisted by some friends including local electronic musician Dan Deacon, they hooked up some mics and proceeded to sample every conceivable sound that they could squeeze out of the hefty old beast.
Ultimate Care II is made up of one continuous track which begins with the twist of its timer as it sets off on a 38-minute journey, the length of its shortest wash cycle. As the machine fills up with water, tribal-like hand-beaten rhythms come in from the distance, which are then joined by all manner of rubbery squeaks and metallic scrapes, some manipulated and others organic. 6-minutes in and the drum stops turning, giving way to bleeps, whooshes and other processed sounds. It’s a promising start, but besides some momentary teasing with more excitement things drift along aimlessly for a good quarter of an hour.
It’s when the album reaches the 21-minute mark that things start to pick up again. Here the rubbery squeak of the door seal is used to great effect alongside skittery percussion and the slamming of the top loading lid, before synth keys and atmospheric washes give way to several minutes of what sounds like an old steam engine hurtling along on a very wet day. After some playful pots-and-pans-like percussion, the album closes with an incredibly exciting finale involving drum-and-bass beats and glitchy effects before the buzzer goes signalling the end of its cycle.
Sampling an old washing machine sounds like it could be a great idea on paper, but in reality it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. The album begins with plenty of promise and ends on a high note, and while there are some fun moments during the mid-section there isn’t much that makes you want to return after the initial curiosity wears off. There are rumours that Matmos are planning to play Ultimate Care II live at some point during the year, maybe a tour of launderettes beckons? Nothing would surprise you with these guys.
Released: 19th February 2016
Label: Thrill Jockey
Rating: Light 6