Consider Treasure State the culmination of a long-time collaboration. Percussion quartet So Percussion and found-sound duo Matmos have toured and performed together since the mid-’00s. However, much of the two groups’ respective works have relied on some form of collaboration. So Percussion has perhaps followed the more conventional form of collaboration by performing compositions by other composers (Steve Reich, Fred Firth, Steve Mackey) or interacting with places and events like the film Music For Trains (an exploration of the Vermont landscape) and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual Next Wave Festival. Meanwhile, Matmos has always made a point of using “non-traditional” sounds (like surgery) made by themselves or others to make new beats and melodies. Fittingly, the two groups crib Montana’s mineral-rich nickname for their first recorded project together; the album remains a commitment to collaboration as the artists use what everyday objects to make music as naturally as using guitars, bass and drums.
The titular mantra of Matmos’ 2001 album, A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, remains the same. Everyday objects like ceramic pots, pails of water and beer cans are still seen as opportunities to create some musical healing. The result is a series of use/abuse experiments that are generally rhythmically gentle and harmoniously pleasing. The percussion quartet manipulates amplified cactus needles on the aptly titled “Needles” as Matmos builds a tense yet manageable level of energy. The freely distributed “single” “Treasure” earns its exotica tags in spades with its relatively dense arrangement of clippity-clop percussion and languid Lanois-like guitar yawns. Meanwhile “Cross” and the album closer, “Flame,” measure with the two groups’ most accessible works to date. The former moves at the speed of Southern heat and with the deliberate step of trunk-rattling blap. The latter invokes the delicate ballet of a single candle flame as layers of acoustic guitars give way to cheerful marimbas, a Postal Service-able beat and just a touch of can bashing.
As pleasing as the final results are, Treasure State would have benefited greatly from a behind-the-scenes look. If the album’s title refers to the groups’ interest in natural resources, this would suggest the importance of the album’s source materials. Simple visuals, such as the So Percussion members huddling around and flicking the needles of a plugged-in cactus would have been immensely helpful in appreciating both the end-product music and the music-making process. At present live concert attendance and, of course, YouTube clips provide the only contextual glances. Hardly terrible options, but rather limited in terms of who can get access. So until you get a front-row seat during their summer tour, feel free to use your imagination on how they excavated these sounds.