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Matmos -- 'The Marriage of True Minds' (Thrill Jockey)( Handout )
RATING: ** out of 4
Digging into "The Marriage of True Minds" by Matmos -- the Baltimore-via-San Francisco experimental duo that's been together for more than 20 years -- can feel like attempting to solve complicated math problems while blindfolded, all while your ears are overloaded with voices and noises. There's something potentially enlightening to figure out here, but the teachers aren't providing any answers.
For members M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel (an assistant English professor at the Johns Hopkins University on leave this semester), that's the point. The first page of the CD booklet explains that for four years, the duo conducted the Ganzfeld experiment, "a classic para-psychological experiment" that attempts to "transmit simple graphic patterns into [subjects'] minds."
In other words, it's telepathy that drives this record. Test subjects (who included Dan Deacon, Ed Schrader, Jenn Wasner and more than 48 others) wore halved pingpong balls over their eyes, lay on a mattress in a dark room and listened to white noise through headphones.
"Giant triangles, they're on snowy plains that people don't normally look at and see, but they know they're there ... their presence is the presence within the rhythm," Schrader said during the session that inspired "Very Large Green Triangles." He is correct because there is no wrong.
"Marriage" is more audio psychological experiment than music. Instruments, and in true Matmos fashion, objects-used-as-instruments abound, but they rarely create a sustainable beat or recognizable melody. This is performance art, and your appreciation of it will depend on how intriguing you find the Ganzfeld experiment.
This concept album is also particularly difficult to critique because it lacks conclusive findings. We never find out why Daniel was inspired to try Ganzfeld in the first place. In the liner notes, he writes that he attempted to "transmit the concept of the new Matmos album" to subjects, and yet Daniel is the only person who knows the concept.
The album ends with "E.S.P.," a deconstructed Buzzcocks cover that finds Schmidt and Daniel singing together for the first time ever on a record. The relatively breezy finale to the heady adventure ends with arguably the cleanest-sung vocals on the album: "Do you believe in E.S.P.? Well I do and I'm trying to get through to you. So if you're picking up on me, then you know just what to do: So ... think." The final command lands more like an intellectual taunt than an invitation to expand one's mind. It sounds a bit silly when the listener never had a guide in the first place. --Wesley Case