Review: Matmos – Ultimate Care II

In Season 1 of Mad Men, Betty Draper is shown achieving sexual satisfaction from the vibrations of her washing machine while fantasising about an air-conditioning salesman. A similar idea had been played for frivolous giggles in the hospital sitcom Scrubs, but Mad Men’s scene spoke volumes about its character’s unhappiness. Shackled to the domestic sphere and neglected by her philandering husband, Betty gets through her days with the aid of chardonnay, cigarettes and spin cycles.

Whether we take matters that far or simply draw the line at letting it cleanse our underwear, we all have intimate relationships with our washing machines and now the conceptual electronics duo Matmos have turned theirs into a work of art by making an album constructed entirely from sounds generated by the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II model which resides in their basement. It’s a novel if not uncharacteristic approach from a couple who have previously taken samples out of everything from haircuts, through the “the amplified neural activity of crayfish”, to an array of surgical procedures.

This album consists of one unbroken track, 33 minutes in length, to fit the length of a typical Whirlpool Ultimate Care II wash cycle. Amusingly, Matmos also credit some guest musicians, although it isn’t entirely clear which sounds exactly were “played” by the likes of Dan Deacon, Jason Willett and Duncan Moore.

It begins with the everyday sound of sloshing water, but that soon gives way to metallic percussion beats, almost tribal in their nature, albeit a tribe that has easy access to electrical domestic appliances. Who knows what kind of physical and studio techniques Matmos have used to create and manipulate this music, but it’s certainly yielded a range of impressive results. At various times, the piece features unearthly alien squeaking noises, bass-heavy drones, passages of twinkly ambient music, robot-like groans, something that sounds like Aphex Twin’s damp xylophone and DJ scratching recreated (presumably) by rubbing something wet across the washing machine’s white surface.

It’s a fun listen, and a surprisingly musical one. It can be moving, too. At around the 25-minute mark there is a beautiful Boards Of Canada-style melancholic melody which is gradually drowned out by the stark, ordinary sound of the rinse cycle. It feels like the final few moments of a mortal being whose soul is being washed away into either the next realm or simply nothingness. This is given extra poignancy by the fact that the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II model is now discontinued.

This would be too bleak a way to end to the record, so Matmos introduce a bonus few minutes of beats and blips and clunks and chugs which, at their most frantic, pretty much resemble drum ‘n’ bass. (A washing machine does include a drum, after all.) So the record’s sadness is cushioned, however temporarily, by this sexier, more orgasmic conclusion, a little like Betty Draper’s forsaken frontloading frolics.

Ultimate Care II may contain nods to fellow sonic pioneers such as Einstürzende Neubauten,
Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, not to mention an array of more avant-garde composers, but it is fundamentally a testament to Matmos’ seemingly uninhibited imaginations and practically unrivalled sonic skills.

Yet another bold move from these spin doctors.

Preorder the album here.

Written by JR Moores