Drawing on parapsychology, pseudoscience and good old fashioned dance music, the latest album from Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt is almost unimaginably good. Based around the Ganzfeld experiments in telepathy, in the spirit of The Marriage of True Minds, this review will consist of two parts. One, the regular review by me and the other an experiment by my wife who has not heard the album but has attempted to experience it by concentrating on my thoughts as I listened to the album on headphones.
Firstly, we present the ganzfeld approach to reviewing The Marriage of True Minds. The target (me) sat in a separate room to the receiver (my wife) and listened to The Marriage of True Minds on headphones. The receiver was allowed to sit on an armchair with her eyes covered. The receiver listened to pink noise through a set of headphones. She were asked to concentrate on the target and describe any mental imagery and mental sounds that they experienced. The receiver’s responses were recorded on a Dictaphone and transcribed below. The receiver was not allowed to listen to The Marriage of True Minds prior to the experiment and the target did not describe the album to the receiver in advance of the experiment (and indeed the receiver was not all that familiar with Matmos anyway!).
"You": There’s something like a light in the very top slightly to the left of my vision. I’m very conscious that it’s there. It feels like something high and bright, like stars and because music’s on my mind I’m thinking of like, I don’t know, like lead in, that it’s delicate somehow or maybe stripped, something like that. In my mind’s eye there’s kind of soundwaves or smoke or fog. Yeah there’s something current about it with little flashes like salmon actually coming out of a river, little flashes of brilliance. A person just a moment ago, like a figure just popped into my mind there. Kind of, a face, definitely a face there. I’m hearing looping like a motif, recurrent motif, like voices maybe. Maybe like a record scratch, actually sounds like “Doo! Na-ha. Doo!” Yeah it’s actually kind of like vinyl yeah, maybe coming to the end of the record or something. Definitely feels like there’s more, there’s a sense of more, more going on. E, the letter E. Hands, maybe hands, fingers? I’m not sure what that was. Face. Again kind of a figure. A woman or a man with long hair. Sense of movement. Backwards. Yeah, I can hear voices, it’s almost, almost constant.
"Very Large Green Triangles": It’s like a chorus going on. But it’s not like someone singing, it’s like someone calling and then this, kind of, vinyl scratch or more like a record coming to the end – actually a weird Mr. Blobby face came there for a second. Dice. Gorilla maybe. Again, yeah faces. They’re coming thick and fast as if the face is drawing in white but just the silhouette in a very stylized, then kind of an Easter Island type head. Something like a little shaft of light, a handle. Window lock. Trees. Feeling a bit self conscious. And a rod support or some little piece of metal. Window. Yeah, architectural details are running through my head. The voice or whatever it was, I’ve just realized that that’s less apparent now, that chorus. Yeah there’s a bit of self-editing going on here, things popping into my head but I can feel my conscious mind rebelling against them or interpreting them. Oh god, very clearly a rat with wings. Literally a rat with wings. Kind of turning into a hamster or a gerbil or something cuter now. Still there, definitely. Cat. They’ve gone. Cat’s there faintly. Seedlings, like watercress.
"Mental Radio": More low… I can’t describe it, the sound has kind of changed, it’s low and forward. No, I can’t put it into the words but the sound feels different. Relaxing. The word “Condor” popped into my head briefly but I’m fighting against saying it because it sounds so stupid. Phoenix or something, something sharp and not quite there. There is a feeling of birds or fish, something moving quickly. Fox. Kind of electricity meeting something, maybe chemistry. Oh and feeling of movement, very definite feeling of moving down and up at the same time, kind of pressing together but not tense. Something like a tunnel or a bubble forming or something. Teeth. There’s a definite sense of movement, this feels faster. Maybe not faster. Progressing definitely. Like it’s going somewhere.
"Ross Transcript": This feels closed in, it doesn’t actually feel good. Kind of creepy imagery coming to me. Skulls. Not human. Other. Needle and thread? I notice over the last few minutes that my proprioception has gone wonky. My head very much feels like it’s in the wrong place, not where I know it to be. There suddenly very busy. It feels a bit fussier now, more bits. I am seeing circles, tunnels, something. Sorry, I’m probably mumbling. It just popped into my head: A tunnel maybe I’m dying. Don’t go into the light!
"Teen Paranormal Romance": Roses, old fashioned tea roses. Honeycomb structure. Complex. Amber, amber orange, yellow. Yeah, definitely honeycomb. Kind of bubbles, bulbous, I’m not sure. Wasps. Proprioception has gone haywire. I feel, it feels really disconcerting. It feels like my legs are up much higher than they are. Like I’m bent over. Now I’m seeing angular shapes like rods kind of piled up on each other. This feels awful, my body feels like it’s totally wrong. White just popped into my head for a second but I can’t put anything around it, just a little white something. Yeah. This feels terrible. Moustache, definitely old fashioned mustache. Kind of M-shapes, like when you draw birds as a child. Those kind of shapes. Cherub briefly there for a second. I shouldn’t have self-censored but briefly there was something like Darth Vadar’s helmet. Now I’m thinking of Death Star. Yeah, sorry, going down a road here. Space is in my mind now definitely.
"Tunnel": Kind of gauzy, gauzy material. Light coming through. Yeah the light kind of coming through a white material, slightly opaque material. Unfolding, there’s a huge sense of unfolding now. The light’s kind of getting bigger in my field of vision. Again, brief concern that I’m dying but kind of OK. Kind of V-shapes going on as if like in a ravine or something. Cloudy now, misty or my vision’s getting greyer. Darkening kind of like there are storm clouds gathering. Feels colder now. My proprioception is mental. There’s a lot less going on now, it feels quieter. That sound is back, the kind of vinyl… bouncing. Ooh I feel, there was a moment there where I felt Alice in Wonderland-y like I was much smaller, like condensed. It feels narrow, that’s the only word. And there’s this kind of surreal element to it. Circus. Toilet briefly popped into my head there. Astronaut. Think white is in there somewhere but I can’t put my finger on the other things. Sense of surfacing. Two women talking to one another. Dressed in their finery. Movement – right to left and left to right like I’m being kind of shook sideways. A little figure, not sure what. A baby. Everything feels a lot louder over the last little while, a lot busier.
"In Search of a Lost Faculty": Seeing sea mines. Coral. Tube coming out of something. Like something small coming out of something bigger. Kind of like grinning skulls like a stylistic face again. A man working on something. Like a forge, you know working intently on something. A person waiting. On a bed. Something growing from something. A lot more organic, a lot more like the human form, more exaggerated. Like elements of nature, very much like animals, just going through small, fine-detailed. Wooden blocks, figures, shapes. Checkerboard pattern. Mount Rushmore, something… carving of a face but very angular. Brown. Hands reaching. Again thinking of kind of small animals maybe.
"Aetheric Vehicle": The Italian flag briefly. Fussy angular fiddly patterns. Actually quite like the outer edge of the sun. I’m definitely getting distracted now by internal sensations. It’s becoming harder to concentrate. Cork in a bottle. Coop from Twin Peaks. Red. And a girl with her hands open wide, a kind of exaggerated “I don’t know” stance. That girl is very much in my mind now. Spinning mechanics maybe. Something like weather apparatus. X. Y. I feel like John’s concentrating very hard now. Maybe forcing himself more, I’m not sure. Unfortunately my inner skeptic is having a little war with myself now. Big and expansive but gappy, very loose. The snow, yeah definitely trees in snow. There’s something incongruous, something I can’t put my finger on. Something not quite adding up or quite right. Really not getting wrong but maybe juxtaposed is more the thing. Night sky. There’s a fuller sound in my ears, the noise seems to have upped a gear. Very conscious I’m probably mumbling. I was thinking very much a rapid pulsing but there is actually a vibration coming through. Either that or I’m really tuning into your thoughts John and you’ve gone for a very bassy sound.
"ESP": There’s definitely a sense of rumbling but can’t put my finger on it. Kind of a top-down feeling, don’t know what that’s about. Thinking of sliding, sliding down. I actually thinks this takes a lot of training, I can’t get past the self-consciousness or the self-editing that’s going on. There’s thoughts briefly coming and slipping away before I can really get a handle on them or decide what they are but I think that’s the conscious mind just imposing itself on this. And here was me thinking I didn’t engage my brain before I talked but apparently no, it really does happen. I’m getting teeth, body parts, eyes, disassembled, kind of, that sounds a bit macabre but no just brief glimpses of individual parts. Mostly an eye. A chain and a lock. An eye there. Really clearly. Like a wolf’s eye. Purple. Figure moving. Silhouetted. There is definitely more like a bass line that’s kicked in, very rhythmic, very centred. Building up speed and then dissipating, gone. There it is, very clearly. Not as clear as before but it came in there again a second but it’s gone. Bathtub was there for a sec. There’s definitely a bass line there coming in every so often. Trendy person there with the black plastic framed glasses. Kind of Salvador Dali rock composition. Bass line's coming back in but it’s gone. Now there’s more, less heavy, a lighter sound. More fine-tuned. Not fine-tuned, finer. I’m really struggling with the sense of time passing. This feels like it should be the 40 minutes. I’m finding it hard to hold myself in concentration. I’m definitely beginning to get I think a little bit anxious about this – Oh! And it’s done!
Matmos have created a stunning work that is as much indebted to methods like free association and as it is to psychic powers. Their employment of unexpected juxtapositions and sense of the other on this album, more than any of their previous releases, is as much a work of psychoanalysis and Surrealism as it is a parapsychological experiment. The ideas may or may not be psychic in origin (personally, I am not even a little bit convinced of it) but the ideas are at the least great and they present a perfect springboard for Matmos to begin from.
"You" (a cover of a Leslie Winer song) sets the scene with a female voice talking about telepathy and the moon, describing everyday activities before another voices asks us "Will you hold that thought?" Musically, some pretty piano provides a platform for sequencers, rubber bands and banjos to take us to another place. The piece also introduces the ubiquitous if unassuming triangle which aside from being one of the most humble of instruments, is a key image throughout The Marriage of True Minds. As if on cue, "Very Large Green Triangles" (also featured on The Ganzfeld EP in a different form) is classic Matmos with its mix of humor, high concept, modern composition and a banging beat. It drives through this plane and into the next, like the very thoughts the duo are trying to project.
I never feared that Matmos would make a dull album based on the subject matter but any danger of that occurring is blown away with each successive piece. "Mental Radio" is a maelstrom of horns and sirens whereas "Ross Transcript" is a concrete poem consisting of manipulated voices, kitchen appliances and abstract synthesizer waves. However, the album’s highlight is undoubtedly the monster piece "Tunnel" where everything that they strive for in melding the paranormal with their music works like magic. A biting guitar, didgeridoo-like sounds, triangles and a pounding beat come together like the sort of concentrated psychic assault that only exists in comics. "There’s a light at the end of the tunnel but it isn’t daylight" – free association or telepathic exchange, "Tunnel" gives me chills.
"In Search of a Lost Faculty" is another highpoint but one of a different caliber. Here the recordings of the participants of Matmos’s experiments are heard in a mostly unadulterated form. All the participants mention chiming, bells or musical triangles (or some variation thereof). As such, Daniel and Schmidt create a haunting soundscape out of struck triangles, bell-like sounds and the ethereal sound of Clodagh Simonds’ voice. Early versions of this have been performed at Matmos live shows since 2008 and it is fantastic to finally have a studio version to go with my memories. Finally, a cover of The Buzzcocks song "ESP" closes the album, which Matmos deconstruct in their own unique way. It is a great rendition of the song that caps off the album in a wry, tongue-in-cheek way. The original already has a fantastic melody but Matmos rework it in such a way as to make it, aptly, bore into the centre of my brain where it has stayed for weeks now.
So while I am less than convinced of telepathy (the vaguely random, read-what-you-like-into-it transcript of our ganzfeld experiment was fun but more wrong than right), I am totally convinced of The Marriage of True Minds. Matmos have taken their time in developing this album but it has been time well spent as this is easily up with their best work like A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure or The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast.