In conversation with Miles Bowe, Drew Daniel (the Soft Pink half of Matmos) said “early on, we did some live versions of [The Marriage of True Minds] when it was totally mysterious and esoteric to people in the audience and they had no idea what we were doing up there or what it was supposed to be about, and people would ask us if it was some kind of Aleister Crowley thing.” This preoccupation with performance, this antipathy to “basically watching somebody press play,” illuminates an internal division within Matmos’ use of the experiment-frame. As a compositional aid, the experiment-frame marks possible angles of approach; its deployment on-stage becomes a concession to the ASL calisthenics of hype and its justifications. There is a double amnesty: the methodological alibi becomes a justification for listening.
This amnesty reflects a dual antagonism central to Matmos, an intrinsic binary complication that would have the pair fixed firmly within the prog canon, somewhere between King Crimson and Spring Heel Jack. First, their self-conscious dependence on frames, which undermines the notion, central to industry-standard ideology, that music is innocent (the canonization of this or that group is habitually conducted in terms of absolution and necessity; “X had no choice, they had to-” write it this way, play it this way, etc.). Second, their mastery of, and lack of remorse regarding, their own rootlessness, contrary to the — genuine, but disavowed and sublimated — tribalism itching beneath the surface of the Western eardrum, the tribalism we testify to when we say things like “hipster,” “purist,” “mainstream,” and “underground” (tangentially raising the Žižekian point that all the universal slop of our post-genre eclecticism has achieved is a more diffusive elitism).
The mistaken inference of the presence of black magic within The Marriage Of True Minds, however, is more than a simple translation of popular associations between parapsychology and the occult. At its (frequently) crudest, witch house was little else besides a cluster of momentarily ripe signifiers, but there is an overlap between the death drive euphorics of screwgaze’s drone-baked jejune juke and Matmos’ aptitude for functionalist exercises in dynamics. If the dancefloor discerns black magic cloistered between the flanks of a sloped high-pass filter, this can only be because of its heightened sensitivity to the occult resonances of noise-crested electronics. Although the strongest moments on True Minds avoid the sort of doglegs that take the full-tilt kitchen sink skank of “Very Large Green Triangles” into synapse-curling melodic overload, the album as a whole tends toward crescendo. To naïvely insert The Marriage of True Minds into the current conversation, regardless of their history, is to invite tantalizing comparisons with Sandwell District, Blawan, James Kirby’s Death Of Rave project, and the Tri Angle roster: a gathering in that anamorphic zone where rave bleeds into noise.
By contrast, the beat-less collages of “Ross Transcript” and “In Search Of A Lost Faculty” twinkle like glazed concrète, DSP games of fumbling, dissociated innuendo that recall Replica’s ecstatic churn or the corrupted psychogeographic artifice of Mordant Music’s Travelogue series. There are so many ideas flying around that listening settles into a pattern of hide-and-seek: moments of becoming are never far away, but then neither is the ghost-clown of IDM, of electronica’s maternal authority. Album finale “ESP” — a delinquent scrambling of black metal signifiers within DAT Politics’ chippy wonk — prompts the reflection that if Matmos use the experiment-frame to trace possible escape routes from the labyrinth of the aesthetic ego, they also use it to defer the moment of their exit. Plastic surgery, the War of Secession, telepathy: True Minds continues a proud tradition of celebrating dead ends and lost causes.