The sound of semen, it turns out, is squishy and thin. Personal rape alarms? Chilling and shrill. A theremin played by snails? Hard to say. Those are just a few of the samples on Matmos' The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast, a collection of sonic portraits patterned after figures from a sprawling, eccentric history of ideas.
Matmos has always trafficked in conceptual matter, whether tweaking the sounds of surgery or reconstituting Civil War hymns into twitching electronic hums. But never have the duo's heady aims come together as well, sonically or ideologically, as they do in thoughtful tributes that work just as effectively as tracks. Rose opens, as more albums should, with a consideration of the logic and language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein; readings of his Philosophical Investigations (including one by famed Matmos friend Björk) rise out of a limping mix of crinkly static, goose calls, and noise sourced somehow to manure. Gears shift considerably in "Steam And Sequins For Larry Levan," an evocation of the legendary disco DJ that trails blurry horns, a sumptuous bassline, and subtle cutaways that make everything spin slightly off-center.
"Steam And Sequins" is the funkiest track Matmos has ever made by a good measure, and it signals what makes Rose rich with uses other than just cocktail-party chatter. Graced by a new lightness of touch and simply better as programmers, the two friends behind Matmos sound loose and lively where they once sounded stiff. The alternately rhythmic and atmospheric music is as interesting as the ideas, and that's saying something for an album that delves into William S. Burroughs, weird '50s rock producer Joe Meek, would-be Andy Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas, photographer James Bidgood, and King Ludwig II of Bavaria.