Ultimate Care II is not a sequel. Nor is the title some sort of parody of other albums. As a quick google search can attest, it refers to a particular model of a washing machine, as featured on the cover. Anyone who hasn’t already been following Matmos (and probably a decent portion of those who are) will probably be surprised to find that the entire album is sampled from various noises said washing machine makes. Listeners can throw in their towels on their expectations, preparing for a dazzling swirl of normalities. The dial twists, and it begins.
Perhaps due to this complete lack of expectations, Ultimate only serves to surprise. Any attention reveals the source of the music, but once it seeps into the background, it doesn’t actually just sound like a washing machine, an amazing feat in and of itself. Any of the segments of the 38-minute (which is, yes, laundry cycle length) piece could fit into a playlist filled with Aphex Twin, Autechre or µ-ziq. This comparison, while accurate in terms of timbre, more importantly also applies to quality. Particularly towards the back end of the album, the intense complexities and vague semblances of pop sensibilities crossover perfectly to create something enormously satisfying and highly replayable.
The album is a masterwork of sample-based songwriting. The Ultimate Care II is actually transformed into an full-grown band in its own right. Sifting water creates ambience, tumbling creates drums, beeping creates melody, and no one section sounds exactly the same as another, which is another achievement in its own right. Most self-declared “IDM” musicians wouldn’t even think of sampling a washing machine in a track, let alone have the ability to create a 38-minute one that somehow manages to flow together as well as the rotary waves inside.
That’s another thing that should really be paid closer attention to – despite the incredibly unusual variance in timbre, Ultimate flows as well as any traditional electronic album, if not better than most. From the beginning to the end, common themes persist. Instead of editing the sounds to oblivion, everything naturally develops enough to keep listeners interested (they should rarely, if ever, find themselves thinking “I’ve heard this before”), without anything sounding out of place or frustrating. In fact, hardly anything is overextended in length. This album, like the machine itself, isn’t front-loaded – the most noticeable thematic example is in the final segment. The tension of the beginning returns, builds, builds, builds, and then – beeeeeep – laundry’s done.
The average person, upon reading about an album composed of 38 minutes of laundry machine-based noises, most likely wouldn’t be very interested. Even for the typical music follower, it might be a bit much to handle. But this isn’t an album for the masses.There are plenty of albums with a similar avant-garde nature that aren’t really enjoyable for anyone who isn’t insanely bored with “normal” music. But that’s kind of regrettable. The best albums take experimental ideas and apply them to a more popular format, and that’s exactly what Matmos has done with Ultimate Care II, combining something completely unexpected with a sound format familiar to electronic fans. By the time they’re done, listeners will no doubt want to start the cycle all over again.
– Kirk B.