Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Jon Ashley, Recorded at Echo Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina, October 2010, during MoogFest
When you first meet M.C. (Martin) Schmidt and Drew Daniel of the great and long-running Baltimore act Matmos, you think to yourself, "Well, there absolutely couldn't be two more different people in all the world. I find it hard to believe that they are compatible at all." The thing is, not only are they compatible, but they share a bed with the other. It's compatibility to the maximum, an all-encompassing connection of body, mind and soul that results in some of the more heady instrumental music being made. Schmidt dresses like a scholar, like a doctor, someone suited for a high-class cocktail hour where the bullshitting and networking is off the grid. He is bespeckled in an sconomic pair of eyeglasses, has dress shoes and shirt on, with his upper body coated with a thrift store-ish leisure suit. Daniel, a professor in the Department of English at Johns Hopkins University, looks as if he's coming from or heading to a DIY punk rock basement or warehouse show, with boots, old jeans and ragged black tee-shirts. However, the two share a properness about them, a coolness and a chilled mood that is partly deadly seriousness and partly, exactly what it is - that coolness. They strike you immediately as men who take their music-making extremely seriously, as if it were the most important operation ever to be performed. Even when they plug in and get in front of instruments - as they did here with old friend Dan Deacon sitting in for one half of the two-piece, improvisational set, with no structure or discussion on form or shape - they have a look in their eyes of people set for a grand, but potentially perilous adventure. There is an intense look of concentration that sets over them and with little to no communication or eye-contact, they set to work in a small room with a piano whose keys were likely still warm from when Van Dyke Parks was playing it earlier in the day. The music that Schmidt and Daniel made here, at Echo Mountain studio, is filled with advances and retreats of grooves and impassioned figures of stress. They pump strain and pressure into their compositions, bringing us to the very edge as they push us over and pull us back, making their work feel as if it were on a rolling hill made out of the ocean's waves, something that is not only uncontrollable, but also unpredictably shifty and dense. There are no clues given as to what will come next. It just might be an interrupted discussion of REM's discography and disagreement over what day of the week it is, as is found at the end of a piece here. We're not sure what they're going to do next because it's hard to understand why they did what they just did, and that's all a part of their appeal. They explain how they're making their next record. Not to give too much away, but it involves white noise, I believe homeless people, mental telepathy and freely associative interpretation. It's going to be a real mother of an album and, like everything this odd couple has ever made, we're interested as hell in how it turns out.