Ultimate Care II is the new album from renowned conceptual electronics duo Matmos (Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt). Recorded in the basement studio of their home in Baltimore, the album is constructed entirely out of the sounds generated by a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II model washing machine. Like its namesake, the album runs across its variations as a single, continuous thirty eight minute experience that starts with the grinding turn of the wash size selection wheel, and ends with the alert noise that signals that the wash is done. Between these audio-verité book-ends, we experience an exploded view of the machine, hearing it in normal operation, but also as an object being rubbed and stroked and drummed upon and prodded and sampled and sequenced and processed by the duo, with some occasional extra help from an ultra-local crew of guest stars (some of whom regularly do laundry chez Matmos). Dan Deacon, Max Eilbacher (Horse Lords), Sam Haberman (Horse Lords), Jason Willett (Half Japanese), and Duncan Moore (Needle Gun) all took part, either playing the machine like a drum, processing its audio, or sending MIDI data to the duo’s samplers.
The vocabulary of the Ultimate Care II, its rhythmic chugs, spin cycle drones, rinse cycle splashes, metallic clanks and electronic beeps are parsed into an eclectic syntax of diverse musical genres. The result is a suite of rhythmic, melodic and drone-based compositions that morph dramatically, but remain fanatically centered upon their single, original sound source. Like their promiscuous DJ sets, the palette of genres in play reveals Matmos’ hybrid musical DNA: Industrial music, vogue beats, gabber, Miami bass, free jazz, house, krautrock, drone, musique-concrete, and new age music all churn up to the surface and are sucked back into the depths. In this moiré pattern of textures, the listener encounters elements that sound like horns, kick drums, xylophones or sine waves, but in fact each component is meticulously crafted out of a manipulated sample of the machine. In other hands, such relentless conceptual tightness would court claustrophobia. Happily, Matmos’ willingness to transform audio and engage pop structure bypasses arid, arty thought exercises and produces instead their signature effect: abject and unusual noises yielding weirdly listenable music.