FAT-BOTTOMED PEOPLE don't generally like to jiggle their cellulite before the public eye. So why would they be any less reticent about casting the sound of their quivering flab over the stereo? Strange but true: Liposuction patients allowed Matmos to record the vacuum-slurp of their backsides disappearing into a tube, along with other hospital sounds, and transform them into, um, complex rhythms (I was warned not to say "fat beats"). The resulting album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, is an edgy, quasi-pop concept album that plays doctor with the arts.
The Matmos duo--M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, both of whom are doctors' sons--don't just allow you to listen to hospital sounds but record and mix these samples in such a manner that you actually feel as if you're undergoing the procedures yourself. The irreverent "Spondee" samples an audiologist's tests for deaf children, then reduces the sounds of squirting ketchup and dropping pancakes until they reach a sort of sub-audible threshold. In "For Felix (And All the Rats)," Matmos plucks the bars of a skittish lab rat's cage to form an unpredictable, Steve Reich-like improv that makes you feel as nervous as the titular rodent. "Ur Tchun Tan Tse" takes the galvanic response of skin to electricity and turns it into an exercise where human senses meet industrial music. And the eerie, human-skull tappings and pulsing beat of rushing blood on "Memento Mori" make listeners' hearts pound a little faster. The medium is the message for this surgically reconstructed album.
Because of its subtle blend of form and function, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure is also one of the most subversive and inherently political albums in recent years, far more so than rock's usual rage against the machine. When Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan screams that he is "still just a rat in a cage," the adolescent melodrama seems distant and silly. Yet when Matmos details that same claustrophobia by tinkering with actual cages, the song becomes a moving polemic about cruelty. Better yet, you can boogie down while you're musing on a Matmos manifesto. And as Emma Goldman never said: If you can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your rhinoplasty.
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