Published Mar 11, 2019Drew Daniel, one half of experimental electronic duo Matmos, is alone in an interview with Exclaim!, preparing to tell the story of his band's forthcoming new album, Plastic Anniversary: "It's just me," he says over the phone, "which means that I can fabricate all kinds of lies and Martin [Schmidt, bandmate and partner] can't correct me." But with a story that starts with a plastic fish-shaped jock strap and ends with one of their tracks being shot into space, who needs to make things up?
Daniel and M.C. (Martin) Schmidt's recent announcement that their latest LP would be completely comprised of "sounds derived from plastic objects" may have initially sounded tame — Matmos have already crafted entire albums from samples of medical procedures, telepathic songwriting methods and a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine — but like anything Daniel and Schmidt commit to, there's a whole fascinating world behind the making of Plastic Anniversary.
"We take turns being in charge of records and that's the kind of chore wheel within the relationship," Daniel rationalizes. "I said, 'Our 25th anniversary is coming up, why don't we make something about us, about our relationship, about our intimate past together?'"
After suggesting they make an album based on objects from their past, including the "plastic jockstrap [Daniel] was wearing the night they met at Club Uranus," Schmidt expressed his reservations about the idea, explaining that a celebration of their personal lives sounded "narcissistic, kind of lame and sort of smug."
Daniel then stumbled upon the theme that would set the recording of their next LP in motion.
"I was thinking, but I kept returning to that plastic jockstrap. I went and found it and it was decomposing, the plastic was actually breaking down into little chunks in flakes. That was the moment where the album crystallized for me — that idea that we can have some intimate relationship through a material like plastic, which is going to be around for centuries and yet it is something that is going to change."
Pulling together objects like bubble wrap, PVC panpipes, toilet brushes and synthetic human fat, Plastic Anniversary is a collection of rhythm-heavy, buoyant and glitchy organic pop compositions that manage to work just as well musically as they do thematically. This may be due to the fact that the duo chose their "instruments" for what they represent as well as their ability to make compelling sounds.
"The music had to be able to operate at multiple levels. Our hope is that people can just hear it and enjoy the patterns at that level," says Daniel, "but if somebody wants to find out, 'What is this made out of?' and then they find out that it's made from a police riot shield or a breast implant, those are much more loaded objects. Or if they want to know, 'What do those objects say about human beings?' that's a bigger question. But it also has to work at the level of, 'Do I like what those hi-hats are doing even if I don't know that the hi-hats are actually toilet brushes?'"
As much of Matmos' catalogue seems to be centred around a singular mood, Plastic Anniversary is unique in how it moves from the absurd ("Breaking Bread" was created using shards of vinyl from records by '70s soft rockers Bread), to the celebratory ("Plastic Anniversary" contains a triumphant fanfare from plastic horns and the aforementioned jockstrap) to the political ("Thermoplastic Riot Shield" finds the duo stroking and rubbing a plastic police barricade to create "A kind of perverse response to what shield is used for").
Although Daniel and Schmidt set out to make a relationship album with Plastic Anniversary, they ended up also making an album about police brutality, our reliance on plastic and the pure satisfaction of hearing billiard balls bouncing off each other. So, it's no surprise that the record's most insignificant piece — ten seconds of beeps entitled "Extending the Plastisphere to GJ237b" — may be the one that winds up with the most enduring legacy.
"We were asked by the Sonar festival, as part of their anniversary, 'Do you wanna make ten seconds of sound that we're going to send to outer space to an exoplanet?'" says Daniel. "I thought of what my message to aliens would be, and it was 'Watch out! Humans are coming and wherever there are humans there is litter.'"
Plastic Anniversary is out March 15 courtesy of Thrill Jockey.