Matmos step back from the brevity and the easily digestible song structures of their last few records to deeply engage with materiality again on their gorgeous new record, Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey Records). One unbroken track entirely built out of sounds from an eponymous washing machine, it pulls the listener through a looking glass Alice-style as it shrinks, explodes, and decontextualizes perceptions of its sounds through the journey on which it leads the listener.
The questing duo of Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt who make up Matmos are aided here by guests like Dan Deacon and Jason Willett, bringing other flavors into this seamless soundscape. There’s a dance party presided over by Alvin Lucier, which rises up in sections to use a satisfying thunk of striking light metal in the foreground over a void of thick, suspended shapes. A comforting sound that recalls childhood play, it takes on an unsettling tinge as they layer it over hitting more solid pieces as they stretch those metallic sounds past where they should have dropped out of the field of listening. Rhythm is a principal concern here—from caffeinated waves of jostling percussion accented by low whines that imply horns through moody head-knocking tones that almost recall synths into cut-up collisions that bring to mind classic drum & bass and on to sounds of the washing machine belt that almost seem like turntable scratching.
One of the best parts of Ultimate Care II is the deliberately metered out equanimity. It starts with sounds that are vital for the machine to operate (as a real machine, as a metaphor for the world), sounds that clearly indicate something is going wrong (a tumbler coming off its axes, a belt starting to fray, metal rubbing against metal), and sounds so altered they feel unmoored from any context. Then through the hand of the artist, these get juxtaposed to accentuate and diminish their difference. It creates a soundscape that’s apocalyptic and comforting and that never lets the listener get too comfortable; even the most obvious connections to the washing machine (the bookends of a timer clicking and water rushing in) are distorted and played with to suggest intricate layers. The more the piece zooms in on the tiniest glimpse of basic operating elements and makes them something strange and intriguing, the deeper the listener gets drawn in.
Ultimate Care II uses sounds to which the audience is so accustomed they don’t pay attention any longer. But it’s not just a field recording or a lesson in attention. It’s a majestic work at the intersection of contemporary classical and electronic music, with mysteries and pleasures that go on and on and on.