After the self-serious bullshit (sorry, guys) that made up most of 2006’s overrated and underwhelming The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, one could be forgiven for expecting Matmos’ next record to be as turgid and didactic. It’s a sensational surprise, then, that the duo’s latest, Supreme Balloon, is a crisp, melodic ride that is unquestionably their best work since the sighing melancholia of 2003’s The Civil War.
Let’s get it out of the way: they used synthesizers -- and only synthesizers -- in crafting Balloon. All that ‘cosmic pop’ nonsense you’ve been reading about in reference to this record? In the strictest sense, shove it -- this is a Matmos record, so those expecting a collection of Lindstrom bangers can take a seat over there; we’ll be with you shortly. Rather, Balloon is cosmic in terms of its spare enormousness, as the seven tracks on display immediately bring to mind the spaced-out odysseys of those fantastic Eno and Cluster records from the ’70s in both its artistic form and its sequencing (five regular-length tracks, an epic centerpiece, and a solemn closer to send the audience out on).
This is the sound of Matmos having fun and not having to worry about which disco beat suits an elegy to Larry Levan best; on the sly grin that is their jaunty cover of baroque composer François Couperin’s “Les Folies Francaises,” it’s easy to imagine Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt standing on opposite ends of the room with dueling synthesizers, riffing on the original melody back and forth like a Teutonic “Dueling Banjos.” Elsewhere, “Exciter Lamp” inhales syncopated stomps and exhales big Technicolor laughs, while the sinister funhouse exercise routine of “Mister Mouth” (featuring Sun Ra Arkestra fiend Marshall Allen on electronic voice oscillator) ends in oppressive, nearly massive tones.
As previously mentioned, Balloon has a big centerpiece; the 24-minute title track, as such, is patiently sequenced in an exciting way. Warm, warm tones call in as melodies enter and exit with grace before the bottom falls out and all there is to the floor are stars (and glacially beautiful synth keystrokes). Eventually, the previous melodies make their entrance only to leave room again for endless hits of moonlight.
Perhaps the most exciting facet of Supreme Balloon is how unplanned and relaxed it sounds. Sure, there’s a concept; but it doesn’t overtake the general goal of making something that’s sonically pleasing. In synthesizers, Matmos have found their hearts; through old Cluster records, they’ve created one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.