Matmos, "Regards / Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer"
On this latest full-length, the perennially eclectic and boldly adventurous duo of Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt take a break from mining weird and esoteric source material to focus their energies on paying homage to underheard Polish composer and Krzysztof Penderecki associate Bogusław Schaeffer. Matmos were given full access to work their mindbending magic on Schaeffer's complete recorded works and the resultant album is as characteristically unpredictable and hard-to-categorize as ever: instead of remixing or reinterpreting the Polish composer's work, Matmos instead took "tissue samples of DNA from past compositions" and "mutated them into entirely new organisms that throb with an alien vitality." Put another way, Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer attempts to create a conversation or bridge between the "utopian 1960s Polish avant-garde" and "the contemporary dystopian cultural moment." That is certainly intriguing and fertile terrain for a Matmos album, but the resultant songs wound up somewhere even more delightful and confounding than usual, often approximating a collision between fragmented exotica, kosmische, and a Kubrickian sci-fi nightmare. Naturally, that will be very appealing territory for most long-time Matmos fans, as this album is an especially inspired "everything and the kitchen sink" tour de force of quite disparate stylistic threads woven together in playfully disorienting and mischievous fashion by an talented international cast of virtuousos, eccentric visionaries, and plunderphonic magpies.
My knowledge of Bogusław Schaeffer's work is quite minimal, which makes sense, given that he is not particularly well known outside of Poland. However, I have previously encountered fragments of his ouevre through Bôłt's "Polish Radio Experimental Studio" reissue campaign (as well as an unknowing exposure via David Lynch's Inland Empire). Fittingly, Bôłt founder Michał Mendyk was the spark behind this endeavor (as well as providing some presumably much-needed translation assistance). To Mendyk's credit, reshaping and cannibalizing Schaeffer's work turned out to be an ideal project for Daniel and Schmidt to throw themselves into, as the end result is quintessential Matmos. Granted, the duo's characteristically morbid and/or gleefully ridiculous sound sources are absent here, but Regards checks a lot of other boxes on my personal checklist for an inspired Matmos album (kitsch colliding with high art, rigorous scholarship and compositional vision colliding with plunderphonic mischief, etc.). The opening "Resemblage" provides a representative window into the album's baseline aesthetic, approximating a squelchy strain of post-modernist exotica that evokes the feeling of being serenaded by an all-cyborg Xavier Cugat Orchestra in a psychedelic cave. My favorite pieces all follow soon after, as Regards boasts quite a killer first half.
In “Cobra Wages Shuffle,” for example, Matmos unleash something akin to mutant electrofunk played with bath toys that later makes surprise detours into deep space horror, android ASMR, and fragmented NWW-style sound collage. Elsewhere, "Few, Far Chaos Bugles" brings in Turkish multi-instrumentalist Ulas Kurugullu for a mindbending melange of Eastern European folk, tenacious typewriter, Martin Denny, and Thirlwell-esque artificial-sounding horn blurts that evokes the feeling of having a psychotic breakdown on a moonlit beach because incomprehensible alien transmissions are being relentlessly beamed into my head. "Flight to Sodom" is yet another hit, capturing Matmos and instrument builder Will Schorre in an unusually poppy mood, as they steer a lurching kickdrum beat and burbling kosmische synths into a Rashad Becker-esque psychotropic bestiary (fitting, given that Becker himself mastered the album). While I do prefer the album's first half to the second, there are not any pieces that miss the mark–only ones that feature a different balance of broken/fragmented avant-gardism and conventionally enjoyable grooves and melodies. As with all Matmos releases, the big caveat is that Regards is an unrepentantly challenging and kaleidoscopic listening experience, but the rampant exotica touches nicely balance the duo's more alienating tendencies to make this one of the more fun and consistently fascinating albums in the duo's oft-difficult discography.
Sounds can be found here.