An album titled "Plastic Anniversary" — with songs like "Fanfare for Polyethylene Waste Containers" and "Thermoplastic Riot Shield" — was never at risk of being easy listening.
"Plastic Anniversary" is the name of the new album from U.S.-based electronic music duo Matmos. It clocks in at just over 40 minutes of music with 11 tracks. In addition to the above two, other tracks include "Silicone Gel Implant" and "Plastisphere."
It's an instrumental album played without instruments. For a better description, let's turn to a news release from record label Thrill Jockey, which released the album earlier this month:
"Comprised entirely of sounds derived from plastic objects — everything from PVC panpipes and billiard balls to silicone gel breast implants and synthetic human flesh — the album was crafted as a celebration of Matmos' Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt's own anniversary as a couple."
Well, that's kind of touching. What else?
"It also explores our (possibly unhealthy) relationship to a material whose durability, portability and longevity, while heralded by its makers, are the very qualities that make it a force of environmental devastation."
Yeah, so there's that too.
"Plastic Anniversary" is Matmos' 11th album in a career that spans more than 20 years. The closest they've come to the mainstream is working with Icelandic singer Bjork, who's released multiple highly acclaimed albums.
The title track to the album uses poker chips, a PVC pan flute, plastic ocarina, plastic trumpet and trombones, and a plastic fish fashioned into a jock strap. Daniel was wearing the fish while working as a go-go dancer when he first met Schmidt in San Francisco.
The previous sentence is one that doesn't appear in most plastics-related news releases.
How has "Plastic Anniversary" been received? Critics seem to like it. Here's Mark Richardson at website Pitchfork:
"We already know that plastic has a sound," Richardson writes. "On the one hand, 'plastic' means 'fake,' and music described as such is thought to be cheap, artificial. And yet creative uses of plastic are everywhere. The sound of plastic makes me think of a familiar sound of the city — kids on the street who play drums on buckets."
"I think of Ornette Coleman, who played a plastic saxophone throughout his rise in the 1950s and '60s, at first because it was more affordable, and later because he came to prefer its harsher tone, which he felt made it sound closer to the human voice. Plastic leaves space for ingenuity, because it's constantly being repurposed, and it's constantly being repurposed because it never goes away. Plastic objects will retain their structural integrity long after our bodies have withered into dust."
That's a nice sentiment that's also fair to plastics. Richardson adds that "the sound of plastic is wider than you might have imagined." On "Fanfare for Polyethylene Waste Containers" — which is pretty catchy in spite of its bulky title — Richardson says that Matmos enlisted the drumline from Montana's Whitefish High School Marching Band for a rolling beat on garbage cans, with a cast of musicians playing an ominous descending theme on plastic horns.
Spyros Stasis at the Popmatters website describes the album as "an anthem to one of the leading causes of pollution to the planet in all its various forms."
"So here come the PVC pipelines, the bubble wrap and the Styrofoam," Stasis writes. "All these 'instruments' make up the structure of our reality."
"Plastic Anniversary" isn't exactly a love letter to the plastics industry, but it isn't exactly a diatribe either. Its instrumental songs might not pop up in commercials made by the Plastics Industry Association or the American Chemistry Council.
But if it makes some people think a little bit more about the material, it's worth a listen.