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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, October 20, 2003
    Doing it civilly
    "The Civil War ... is meant to suture the English Civil War of 1640 with the American Civil War of 1865 with the domestic civil war between us as boyfriends and band mates with the current civil war in America between those who support Bush and those who despise him as the spineless usurper that he is."

    In their Sept 03 interview with The Wire's David Toop, it's clear which side Matmos are coming down on in that particular war. But they're aiming to do it civilly. Which is the sense in which they intend their latest album title to be understood.

    If there's politics in Matmos music it has to be right there - in the music. Because they're not a lyrical group. So, the music, which here combines hurdy-gurdys with sequencers, autoharps with a Buchla Modular Synthesiser, field recordings with emergency alarm systems, suggests a politics attuned to the times. A politics of the mix. As Toop observes, "Matmos may be considered a weather vane at this point, one indicator among many, all registering a change in our haunted climate. Electronics, computers, memory, instruments, folk music, unpredictable influences, political discontents; we can use all these words..."

    Track one sounds like The Incredible String Band run through sequencers, track four like Iggy Pop on recorder and bassoon, and sleevenotes say that 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' "may contain" (among others) the sounds of leather coat, comb, bicycle pump, knuckles, orange, and a copy of Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy being dropped on the floor.

    This may read like it would sound a mess; 'Pelt and Holler', which utilises the sound of a Rabbit's pelt and a huntsman's holler may read like daft pretension. But they're so gifted in the mix that it works: it's lovely music. In The Civil War, English folk eccentricity segues wonderfully with West Coast electronic dabbling. It's radically gentle, and it works for me. If there is a war coming, I'm on Matmos' side.