Tabs Out | Matt Wellins – Music for the Memphis Group

Matt Wellins – Music for the Memphis Group
8.25.17 by Ryan Masteller

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Matt Wellins is making it tough on us. Tough, that is, to separate audio from visual, sound from sight. And while I’m not suggesting it’s a bad thing – if you’ve read any review I’ve ever written, it’s more like I’m critiquing an aurora borealis or a fireworks display than a musical recording – I do want to make it very clear that to enjoy “Music For The Memphis Group” to its fullest, you’re going to have to do it while looking at something. Or, if you’re the type who likes to close their eyes and let their imagination run wild while they listen to records, go ahead, that’ll work too. Point is, what informs Wellins’s masterpiece the best is the data collected by your eyeballs, not your eardrums.

Obviously, if you’ve been paying attention to anything, this tape is a paean to the Memphis Group, a collective of Italian (and other) designers active from 1981 to 1987 who specialized in postmodern, Art Deco, Pop Art, and retrofuturistic furniture and other objects, often using plastic as a central material and utilizing bold (and multiple) colors. To apply the term ”kitsch” to this style is not far-fetched – a lot of it looks pretty crazy in hindsight, but it’s certainly finding itself in the midst of a resurgence, and if artistic expressions like those of Matt Wellins are the result, then this resurgence is welcome indeed. That’s not to say that Wellins’s music is “kitschy” – it’s too tightly controlled and forward-thinking to be saddled with such a mixed modifier – but it certainly evokes the style the Memphis Group was going for.

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And there you have it – Wellins is a maestro of the MIDI, blasting through presets and arpeggios and samples and tones and moods that are as colorful, smooth, and engaging as they are angular and academic (the final seven tracks are all numbered “Studies” after all), calling to mind recent releases by artists like Nikmis and even the work of OM mainstay/co-administrator Giant Claw. Sure, the source of these sounds is as plastic as some of the Memphis Group’s pieces, but they’re just as imaginative and no less festive. See, where someone like James Ferraro uses his vast computerized library to tease out the darkness and the nihilism of manufacture and consumerism, Wellins injects his music with sheer joy, embracing the oddity and absurdity of color, shape, and texture and how it functions to jolt one’s senses out of stasis. He embraces the artistry behind it, understanding that things, physical items, can actually produce happiness if enough care goes into them and they hold an aesthetic appeal for a subset of consumers. That’s why it’s important to actually hold his tape in your hand – it has real weight, and the art by Mariano Pascual is the perfect accompaniment to the tunes within.

If postmodernism and retro chic are your thing, then Matt Wellins has the perfect soundtrack for you, and Orange Milk pretty much has all the perfect soundtracks for that in their catalog (among other things, obviously). Not only that, there are actual yodels on “Music For The Memphis Group!” You know you want to hear how that works. They’re on “Alaska.” Trust me, they’re glorious.

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