Conceptually minded electronic duo Matmos and So Percussion are vastly different outfits in terms of genre and media. Where the former focuses on dance music, or some form of it, the latter is a modern classical ensemble, performing works from esteemed composers such as Steve Reich through only percussive means. But from an aesthetic standpoint, these two collaborators have more in common than it might seem on the surface. In fact, the use of percussion itself is the thread that ties the two together. Where one group focuses solely on conveying the whole of their pieces via percussion instruments, the other builds pop songs out of unlikely sources, from hospital devices to rat cages to typewriters and snails. And through these strange, musique concrete recordings, they build foundations for something bigger and frequently quite beautiful.
The collaborative effort between Matmos and So Percussion, titled Treasure State, is, as one might expect, a conceptual affair. Yet it is neither as abstract as So Percussion’s previous work, nor as genuinely weird as Matmos’ has proven in the past. Loosely built around the idea of American landscapes, boasting titles such as “Swamp” and “Needles,” the album finds the two groups creating musical landscapes of their own, and quite lovely ones at that.
From the opening chimes of “Treasure,” the lines are instantly blurred between the two groups, and rather than sound like a mashup of two disparate sources, Treasure State finds Matmos and So Percussion engaging in fluid collaboration, each one fully embracing and intersecting with the other’s presence. The gorgeous steel drum of “Water” slowly builds into a gentle symphony of ringing bells, whereas “Needles” finds So Percussion embracing Matmos’ chosen method of using unlikely objects as instruments, in this case the needles of a cactus. The result is exceptional, sublime in composition but also quite funky. Likewise, “Cross” morphs from jarring squeals into an industrial funk jam, the most danceable on the album. However, the gurgles and whirrs of “Swamp” take on a much more sinister tone, still driven by recognizable beats, but with more terrifying overtones.
In many ways, Treasure State is quite similar to Matmos’ prior albums, as M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel use similar methods to create an intricate musical collage of varied and often quirky sources. But by adding an extra set of collaborators to the mix, this album opens up an even wider spectrum for both Matmos and So Percussion. For two separate groups that thrive on highbrow means of artistry, though, Treasure State is a highly accessible work, and one that proves continuously inviting and intriguing, no matter how abstract the artists’ aim.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.