Matmos—the production duo of Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel—carved their reputation, almost literally, sampling the sound of liposuctions and LASIK surgeries on 2001's A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, using laptops to digitally pit and pile tonal thromboses. Always fans of concept albums, the duo then whittled Appalachian folk on 2003's The Civil War; they followed up with 2006's The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast, a collection of 10 tributes to historical gay/lesbian performers, composers, authors, philosophers, and poets (including Joe Meek, Larry Levan, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Valerie Solanas, and Darby Crash). Now, with Supreme Balloon, Matmos have foregone arterial or martial rhythms for something simultaneously more and less organic: a "concept album" composed solely of rare analog synthesizers.
Operating on a wavelength similar to contemporary Matthew Herbert's Around the House and Bodily Functions, or Venetian Snares and Hecate's Nymphomatriarch, Matmos's albums were always at least two-thirds chin stroker, leaving listeners to wonder what else might have been stroked to craft each timbre. On previous albums, Matmos may well have recorded insemination to ultrasounds to afterbirth if it suited the project. But Supreme Balloon was conceived in vitro. A self-imposed microphone-free effort, Supreme Balloon eschews field recording for modular patches, gradual rather than granular distention, making it closer in spirit to Daniel's Soft Pink Truth side project, only without the 4/4 anchor. The problem is that even though this album is their least surgical, it's somewhat antiseptic, and its closed patch-bay loops make it the most hermetic Matmos effort to date.
For all the hyperaware, meticulously edited minutiae of the previous three Matmos releases, those records still played out far less insularly than do parts of Supreme Balloon. Sure, Matmos sometimes playfully scrunch and gate these analog textures, as on the album's titular epic, an ambitious 24-minute Tangerine Dream/Vangelis team-up that never was. But just as often, it can feel as though they simply threw their new old gear in the petri-dish agar and let it evolve—it screams for further twists. Supreme Balloon almost too faithfully orbits a single big picture, even if it is 70 mm and celestial. Their command of kosmische oscillations is commendable, inspiring positive descriptors such as "glissando" and "raga." But it boils down to the sound of vintage tones done with vintage technique, rather than the duo's usual forward-thinking processing.
Supreme Balloon's peaks and valleys offer a catchy survey of the canon of fractal synth topography, a contemporary echo from a historical continuum, and that's the concept. But this chin, for one, gets more vigorously stroked imaging how Matmos might have approached the same material in the digital realm, taking vintage recordings and bruising the edges, dodging the exposure, letting a more hybrid ambition balloon.
Matmos play Mon July 7, Triple Door, 8 pm, $20, all ages.