Metamono by John Barrett

photo: John Barrett

Metamono | With the Compliments of Nuclear Physics (Instrumentarium)

This is music –– and beautiful, physical packaging –– that couldn’t have come at a better time. Speaking of which, the time of music is the key word in all what Metamono do. The London-based trio comprising Jono Podmore, Paul Conboy and Mark Hill specialize in making music from supposedly moribund old electronic instruments and devices, gewgaws and FX units, and they hardwire their own newfangled ones out of spare parts from the junkpiles of yesteryear. Thus the element of time is one of the more interesting facets of the Metamono concept, as they shuffle and juxtapose eras in history, in technology and musical style –– “recontextualize” all that, if you prefer. And the time –– the slowness –– that it takes to record and produce work in analog-only ways, along with the deliberately restricted number of sounds available and the way in which they must be used, makes a huge difference.

This hands-on music-making in our current time of far-too-easy musiclike productions with digital technology gives Metamono a paradoxical edge, for they are working as purely as possible in dusty old analog ways and means, and kicking the crap out of digital music as a process for the invention of electronic music that has anything remotely new to say. They’ve got a manifesto about all that which you can see here: Normally, a band with a manifesto (or a logo) ought to be ignored, but Metamono’s tenets about the merits of restriction in particular are provocative and, like their music, done with crafty good humor –– i.e., how scrupulously have they followed the rules of their own manifesto? You want to challenge them on it, just for fun.

Metamono has issued a small slew of actual physical objects in the form of cassette and vinyl releases that convey in both musical content and packaging quality a fresh POV for the previously ignored utilities of “dated” musical equipment (and Mark Hill’s sumptuous cover art similarly recycles detritus to reflect such values). With the Compliments of Nuclear Physics is the trio’s new album, and it is 1) a truly gorgeous thing to behold and hold in your hands; 2) some of the most remarkably life-affirming pure music I personally have heard in a coon’s age. Here are four sides of shortish tracks that bubble, squeak, clank and whirr with consistent fascination having to do in part with its excellent sense of humor –– or maybe that’s “a sense of proportion,” as somebody once said about Faust.

The new Metamono tracks such as “Linger Languour” have a nicely rounded tone painted over an itchy mood of inquisitiveness and sunny openness. “Rare Earth Rush” is maybe early-Kraftwerkian when its tumbling drum machines stop to rest inside a glasshouse assortment of old/new, vaguely familiar and wholly u nrecognizable electric sounds. “Plums and Custard”'s shuffling polyrhythms are funky, old-school, and not dominated by either high nor low ends, like most of the tracks –– another reason they’re easy to handle in large doses. In “Trypnotism” we hear a truckin’ synth sequence among spindles of highwire twinkle and dubstyle echo; in “Fezgate” here’s Gene Pitney’s “Tulsa” on the shortwave dial amid seesaw loops, acid indigestion pops/fizzes; “Glowfade” is a bit more aggressive, like being punched by toy panda bears. Along the way: graceful, rolling arcs of what sounds like a rainbow of buzzsaws, or a carousel or windmill, with the rhythms frequently interrupted in much like the way the brain works.

There’s no menace as such in the album’s tracks, though a few hit more emotionally obscure places, such as “Funland,” a short burst of pure sonic creativity which takes place in the Pachinko parlor of your mind (and is the kind of Top 10 single you’d hear in a parallel universe); by far the darkest track, “Amillaria Solidipes” deals in black, baleful chords and quasi-military beats ameliorated by hushpuppy wolf cries or perhaps fuzzy crows. Well, it does call up a lot of unfamiliar images…

The sounds and effects in treasure-chest cuts like these are sparingly employed and hugely varied, but their descriptions shouldn’t suggest a mere collection of random neat-o sounds jumbled together, as all tracks establish a symmetry and scope with judicious, careful editing, with even a nuanced and rhythmic way the echo effects are blended. “La Grande Peur” and indeed all of the tracks reveal excellent interplay of both likeminded and disparate electronic tones and textures, which harmonize then move apart again, or with edits / dublike dropins and –outs continually transforming each track to reveal its many layers.

There’s a book titled The Uses of the Past by one Herbert J. Muller, which I’ve never read but whose title has stuck with me and which I called to mind when I listened to this new Metamono music: The past is there to be taken apart, inspected, melted down and sprayed all over the future.
–– John Payne

With the Compliments of Nuclear Physics is available as a double-disc vinyl gatefold and/or download at

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