On The Rose has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, the San Francisco duo Matmos treats us to a little history lesson. Each of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel’s ten reckless and genre-less sound collages are dedicated to one of a random assortment of cultural icons who’ve inspired their work. We’ve got Larry Levan, the hugely influential producer whose disco-era sets at the New York club Paradise Garage transformed deejays into folk heroes, and Valerie Solanas, an American feminist writer whose “SCUM Manifesto” called for the eradication of the male gender and who famously shot Andy Warhol in 1968. We’ve got Ludwig Wittgenstein, an early-20th-century German philosopher known for his seminal work “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” and James Bidgood, an American erotic male photographer and filmmaker whose Pink Narcissus became a cult classic.
With such a glut of non-musical references, the challenge for the members of Matmos, and particularly the average listener who won’t know half these folks, is to find pleasure in the tunes themselves. For all its witty references and virtuosic sound design, The Rose doesn’t add up to much more than a series of academic in-jokes (which isn’t surprising given the seminars Matmos recently taught at Harvard University). This isn’t music you listen to; it’s music you talk about listening to.
The band members describe the music on The Rose variously as “mutant disco,” “jazz noir” and “Wagnerian slapstick,” but if there’s anything that ties the tracks together, it’s a rapturous love of experimentation. Schmidt and Daniel are fearless sound manipulators — marrying pistol blasts, shattered plates and fart noises with forays into ’70s booty rock, ragtime and electronica. “Snails and Lasers for Patricia Highsmith” even features a light sensitive Theremin manipulated by, yes, garden snails. But be forewarned: There’s precious little leg room for the listener amid all these aural high jinx. After you stop wondering what the hell that noise is on “Tract for Valerie Solanas,” you won’t have a hook to hold on to or a melody to remember.
Despite cameos by Bjork, Kronos Quartet, and Antony, who nails the vocals on the haunting “Semen Song for James Bidgood,” The Rose remains unfriendly and alienating. The disc either feels kitschy — the typewriter buzz on “Rag for William S. Burroughs” — or stubbornly cerebral — the manically edited “Germs Burn for Darby Crash.” Matmos is certainly innovative, but all pioneers deserve to let their hair down once in a while.
“Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein” MP3