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The Marriage of True Minds

[Thrill Jockey; 2013]

By ; April 29, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Music and science will always have a healthy relationship, or at least until we can fully understand and comprehend what it is that makes us create, enjoy, dislike, and experience music as human beings. The simple answer to those would be love, but like a hippie putting a flower into the barrel of a gun, an emotion doesn’t wish away the problem. Sure, many will testify to making music and enjoying it (or hating it; i.e. reacting to it) out of love, but what it is that causes our brains to work in that way is the real goldmine for scientists. If they can figure out what processes go on in our head that make us want to pick up an instrument, or make us cry, dance, or turn off a song we hear, then the Holy Grail may as well have been found. When you understand the exacts of what makes us connect with music, and inevitably find a some sort of formula for it, then you’ve got all you need to create music that people will love to hear.

It would be a worrying case of “Goodbye Creativity” if it weren’t for the fact that explaining why we love sounds put together in a melodic (or unmelodic) way is so appealing is near enough impossible to put into any words or formula. There’s a physical, neurological process happening, yes, but trying to find an exact one that every human goes through when listening to music is something (in this writer’s humble and amateurish scientifically-versed opinion) that surely can’t exist. Baltimore-based duo Matmos bring an interesting quandary to the table regarding this argument: If we don’t think the same way musically (in an exact neurological fashion), then why so many triangles?

Let me explain: Matmos a pair of experimental musicians/ musical experimentalists whose near-twenty year career has had them toying around with wonderfully wide-ranging concepts and sounds – such as the nerve activity of a crayfish to the sounds of medical procedures – and turning the results into beguiling and fascinating music. Their latest album follows on from The Ganzfield EP from last year, which sought to use telepathic experiments to “transmit the concept of the new Matmos record” directly into the minds of participants whose senses were muffled and covered up. A lot of them saw and heard triangles.

Consequently, The Marriage of True Minds features a lot of triangles, chiming away into oblivion, echoing into silence, if not being mangled and altered to become an entirely different sound. Their presence becomes most apparent on “In Search of a Lost Faculty” where the duo play out a sort of call and response as participants’ voices describe the aforementioned shape and instrument before the sound of it follows in some form. If not just the thematic sound of the album, the song also presents the research and scientific work gone into the making of the album up front. It’s an album based upon ideas, brief sounds and images, muttered melodies, and plenty of seemingly random detail, all fused into cohesive chunks and strange Matthew Herbert-esque electronica.

At least, a good portion of the nine tracks here are cohesive. “Very Large Green Triangles” starts with a mumbled melody that is beefed up theatrically with grand sweeps of strings and piano before becoming a likeable, danceable stomp. The gurgling throat singing from Dan Deacon and fidgety guitar that begins “Tunnel” soon becomes a whole lot more, travelling through a hellish landscape while opening track “You” recalls the smooth jazz of Herbert’s Bodily Functions, complete with IDM clicks and clacks from múm’s early days. “Mental Radio” and “Ross Transcript” are Musique concrete-style tapestries that stitch together lots of indeterminable noises into intriguing cacophonic soundscapes. “Mental Radio” in particular is strangely thrilling, going from free jazz flutes and wishy-washy water noises to a barrage of sirens that’ll make you think you’re about to step into the path of an oncoming fire engine if you listen when crossing at road at the right moment.

What with this being a record full of ideas, nothing ever remains simple. It’s complex electronic music that’ll keep you on your toes, but can just as easily drive you away as easily as it will absorb you. “ESP” begins with a grating take on the Buzzcocks song of the same name, with doom-metal style vocals and guitars, and for an insufferable few minutes it sounds like it might be going nowhere. However, it performs one of the record’s most amazing left turns, and come the closing minutes, you’re on a Technicolor road trip that ends with the same lyrics that began the track done in a style that sounds like it’s cut straight from a kid’s sing-along show. Such is the way with the tracks here: stick with them and something that’ll intrigue your mind will turn up eventually.

Sometimes, however, it’s just a little directionless and disappointing, such as “Aetheric Vehicle” which, despite capturing a wonderful Boards of Canada sound, comes off a like a severely long interlude not only mistakenly allowed to go on too long, but also placed as the penultimate track. And although “Teen Paranormal Romance” might be the steadiest thing here in terms of keeping a consistent sound, it inadvertently suffers from sounding a little too normal, like it could use a few more weird sonic effects. This is just me, though. The Marriage of True Minds is something of a record built for everyone, a fusion of sounds and ideas built from the thoughts and minds of lots of different people; there will be different moments that deter and attract different people, but there are more than enough of the better ones to keep you hooked for the album’s runtime. It’s a little schizophrenic, but that’s kind of the point. It’s an album that resembles a scientific experiment: full of possibility, full of calculated movements, full of momentous moments of synthesis, full of potential disaster. And triangles. Good heavens, don’t forget the triangles.


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