"No microphones were used on this album," state the liner notes of The Supreme Balloon. That would be a pretty bold statement for a lot of artists, but it's an especially striking one for Matmos, who have taken recording normally non-musical sounds and then reconfiguring and recontextualizing them to an exquisite level. That may be exactly why Drew Daniel and Martin C. Schmidt opted for nothing but electronically generated tones on this album. Not because they've tapped out their usual approach, which is confined only by any sound they can pick up with a microphone and any way they want to tweak it, but because sticking to a purely electronic palette -- including an array of classic synths like the Moog Voyager, ARP 2600, Stylophone, and Korg MS 2000 -- is so traditional that it's radical, and just a shade less concept-driven than the aesthetics that guided their earlier albums. While it may be Matmos' least conceptual work in some time, The Supreme Balloon is the duo's most overtly playful music since A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. They spend most of the album making their electronics sound as inorganic as possible, with stiffly thumping and hissing percussion and whimsical melodies that bubble, bleep, and toot, as on "The Rainbow Flag," which hops and jerks like a wind-up toy. The album's shorter songs celebrate the vintage electronic pop of the '60s and '70s as well as the era's gear; "Les Folies Française"'s synth-baroque and "Cloudhoppers"' warm analog tones hark back to Jean-Jacques Perrey, Dick Hyman, and library music. Despite The Supreme Balloon's retro leanings, it has the same wit and intelligence of all of Matmos' previous music, which is just as important to their overall sound as their inspired sampling and sound editing have been. The layers of squiggles, zaps, and beeps on "Mister Mouth" -- which features the Sun Ra Arkestra's Marshall Allen on the EVI (electronic voice instrument) -- aren't so far removed from A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure's "Memento Mori," and "Exciter Lamp"'s flutters and taps could fit in on almost any of their earlier albums. The simplicity of these short pieces feels almost as radical as The Supreme Balloon's electronics-only rule, especially after The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast's intricacy, but "The Supreme Balloon" itself shows that Matmos didn't completely downsize their ambitions on this album. Billowing out past 20 minutes, the track's epic length, Krautrock underpinnings, and droning, Eastern-tinged melodies undulate and unfurl effortlessly and never drag -- which is a pretty supreme achievement. And, while The Supreme Balloon's nostalgic synthetic playground is a smaller statement than some of Matmos' other albums, it's still a strong one.
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