After 20 years together, electronic music's coolest couple explore a 'Marriage of True Minds'
Matmos, the Baltimore-based duo of brainiac multi-taskers Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, are planning to release a new EP, The Ganzfeld, on a new label, Thrill Jockey, in October. And in typically high-minded Matmos fashion, the pair will base the music on experiments in psychic research and feature a remix from the mysterious Bay Area techno producer Rrose; an album, The Marriage of True Minds, will follow in early 2013.
Their new home at Thrill Jockey, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, coincidentally marks a new chapter in the 20-year partnership of Daniel and Schmidt. Four years have passed since their last major album; in the intervening years, they have turned their efforts largely towards academic and art-world pursuits, and the new EP suggests an interest in wrapping up all of their disparate interests into sprawling, but pleasure-filled, art pop.
In case you need a refresher, Schmidt and Daniel's combined exploits include sampling the sounds of plastic surgery; collaborations with Björk, So Percussion, People Like Us, and Dan Deacon; orchestra-pit duty in Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic (an opera starring Abramovic and Willem Dafoe); advanced degrees, professorships, and published writing ranging from Daniel's 33 1/3 book on Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats to his forthcoming tome, The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance. All that, and they also happen to be one of underground music's most inspiring romantic/artistic unions. (In a world without Kim and Thurston, ambitious romantics can rest easier knowing that we still have Drew and Martin.)
The news of Matmos' signing to Thrill Jockey actually caught me off-guard: If I'd had to guess, I would've said that they were already recording for the Chicago indie. No offense to Matador, for whom Matmos recorded five fine albums, beginning with 2001's A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure and ending with 2008's Supreme Balloon. But Matador's interests have shifted over the past few years; they've doubled down on rock music from the likes of Ceremony and Fucked Up and Girls. They're a very different label from the one that served, around the turn of the millennium, as a domestic pipeline for European acts like Burger/Ink, Pole, and Boards of Canada.
Thrill Jockey, on the other hand, has dedicated itself, with little fanfare, to the fringes of the American electronic-music underground, supporting the kinds of sounds more often associated with labels like Kranky and Root Strata. Recent Thrill Jockey releases include Golden Retriever's fantasias for modular synthesizer and clarinet; Dustin Wong's homespun guitar collages in the spirit of Durutti Column; lysergic, oceanic drone-songs from Barn Owl's Evan Caminiti; Krautrock investigations from David Daniell and Douglas McCombs; and even an album that finds the Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop swapping his lounge-music leanings for head-scratchingly abstruse (and still totally awesome) computer music.
Given that, Thrill Jockey feels like a natural home for Matmos, who built the music on their new EP out of recordings of telepathy experiments in which subjects were asked to visualize "the concept of the new Matmos record." On "Just Waves," that research translates to a voice intoning, "I can see just one tone coming towards me; it looks like a spiral, it might be cylindrical, though, so it's starting from really far away," and gradually merging with a chorus of similar Sprechstimme descriptions. Despite the latent hokeyness of the project — and I have no doubt that Matmos' occult interests are at least partly tongue-in-cheek — they manage to evoke something unusually touching from their psychic lab rats. As it swells, "Just Waves" takes on the unlikely grandeur of Meredith Monk's operatic minimalism. It's Matmos doing what they do best, pulling together theory, humor, and killer compositional chops into music at once intense, playful, and uncannily coherent. You might as well have encountered it first in a dream — mission accomplished, then.