Music Reviews
Plastic Anniversary

Matmos Plastic Anniversary

(Thrill Jockey) Rating - 9/10

Shattered bits from broken copies of LPs by the band Bread were used in Plastic Anniversary’s cleverly titled opener, Breaking Bread. As an introduction to this latest LP by Matmos, whose record was built completely from whatever sounds the duo could generate and sample via discarded plastic objects, the track has a jovial and cartoonish appeal. It’s cute: cute like an army of cartoon ants who swallow an entire picnic in a flurry of sproing and squeak as the unfortunate picnickers look on helpless and unhappy. This is, after all, an album of celebration and lament.

Plastic Anniversary does two things: 1). It celebrates the actual anniversary of Matmos members Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, who’ve been a couple for 25 years. 2). It examines plastics as a thing of versatility and permanence, remarking on the life of the material following its usefulness by removing its original purpose in order to fulfill the group’s vision. For example, the intention for silicone breast implants to one day be used to build a piece of music was likely not considered when the device had been conceived and fabricated, but here we are: segments of Silicone Gel Implant sound not too far removed from the group’s 1998 release Quasi-Objects, its initial phase factorially melodic with whistled embellishments, tapped pulsations eventually filling in some gaps as synthesized tones wander in.

With aid from Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier—a better choice of percussive talent I would be hard pressed to think of for a project like this—Matmos successfully craft an environment both musical and tactile, some of the elements stretched to such extremes and arranged so well that they sound convincingly like instruments. I could state for the record that a fleet of kazoos and a brass band were responsible for The Crying Pill, and had you no prior knowledge of this record’s concept, you’d likely agree without hesitation. Similarly, the title track has an air of trumpeted grace set to EDM beats and later ritualized hand drums. Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom is a pep rally of whistles, wailing bebop accents and intermingling drum corps textures. The Singing Tube is like hearing an acoustic guitar whose strings are muted set to the fastest rocking chair. At least, this is what my ears perceived.

For all its tones and textures, though, Plastic Anniversary is a beat record. With the exception of its closing track—the “living” environs collaged together for Plastisphere— it’s obvious that most of the sounds that Matmos could sample from the plastics selected for this LP were percussion-related. Fanfare For Polyethylene Waste Containers is like a Rubbermaid drum circle replete with a cow bell substitute, hydraulic exhalations and anthemic melody. The recognizable and incidental sounds of a pool hall from Interior With Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat lead into a network of percussive sounds and quietly unsettling tones, one of the more abrupt transitions heard on this LP as each track undergoes multiple acts. Thermoplastic Riot Shield is appropriately hostile— itself built from an actual police riot shield—loud knocks and electro-shrieks fused with power electronics that are interrupted at points by a series of beeps. It’s like the warning sounds of a truck backing up.

At the core of Plastisphere, which sounds legitimately like a field recording from some faraway habitat, is the reality that our world is impacted by the durable items we discard. While Matmos succeeds again in offering gimmickry a level of gravitas—this was the duo who used a washing machine as the sole instrument for 2016’s Ultimate Care II—the reality here is that Plastic Anniversary was built from useless, nonessential items, trash that would otherwise collect and exist simply to build up a waste mountain. This is the lamentation: the wear-and-tear of our natural world; the years and anniversaries we live and celebrate as time moves; our impermanence next to storage pills, riot shields, and breast implants. [Believe the Hype]