What hasn’t been done with synthesizers at this point? These protean electronic music machines have provided new freeform sounds such as never before heard on this earth. Their packaged presets have defined whole eras of pop music, and yet there is always someone somewhere trying to make one do something it never did before.
If anyone could be expected to do something new, or at least newish, with synthesizers, it’s Baltimore-by-way-of-San-Francisco duo Matmos. Those looking for boundary-pushing from the new all-synth Matmos disc will be disappointed, but Supreme Balloon shows a most interesting progression from pastiches of pre-digital synth styles into a trio of tracks that prove that Matmos can make worthwhile music out of almost anything, even picked-over retro circuits and sounds.
Matmos’ trademark rhythmic insouciance and sonic wit come through in the bopping, blipping “Exciter Lamp and the Variable Band,” but in the album’s early going the the duo sound like they’re “doing” someone else, whether it’s the chipper arpeggiated 8-bit-video-game-ish melody of “Rainbow Flag” or the Robert Scott-ish bustle of “Mister Mouth.” They even tackle Couperin’s “Les Folies Francaise” a la Wendy Carlos. It all seems like preamble to the sprawling 25-minute title-track. Matmos has never shown much prior interest in the calm or the cosmic, but they prove surprisingly adept in the mode of Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Popul Vuh, et al., shaping washes and pulses into a piece the length of an LP side and keeping it interesting before winding down with the benedictory synth-nuzzles of “Cloudhopping” and a pulsing, untitled “hidden track” that show Matmos finding their own compelling voice amid the knobs.