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The Muffins - 185 CD (album) cover


The Muffins

Canterbury Scene

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Steve Hegede
5 stars This album smokes! The CD has two different versions of <185>, one version is full of overdubs and electronic effects (added by Fred Frith) and the other version is much rawer. Since this is my first album by The MUFFINS I really don't mind the produced version of <185> which starts the CD. But, many long time fans were surprised when they first heard the fancier version of The MUFFINS when <185> was originally released. So, the band decided to release a rawer version of the album which was similar to their live sound (and the sound on their older albums). Anyway, the music is absolutely incredible. The sax/bass/drum playing is really aggressive, quirky, and fast on ideas. At times I'm reminded of a progressive ska band because of the horn section, and at other times they sound more avant-garde. Overall, this will probably impress those who don't really like RIO.
Report this review (#27698)
Posted Monday, March 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars This one is dominated by the language of free jazz. The dissonances and complexity is going here very, very far. Musicianship and crazyness is still at the top but clearly the band is not anymore a rock band. Rewarding in the best way to the most complex side of RIO lovers this one is not recommended to the amateur of more classical prog or even "Soft" RIO.
Report this review (#36880)
Posted Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the most schizophrenic releases that I've heard! I've listening the CD reissue containing two different versions of the album. In late 1980, the Muffins were approached by Fred Frith with an offer to produce and guest on an album of material that he had heard the Muffins play. According to the offcial Muffins web page this albums contains ten tracks of Frith and Muffins composed and improvised material, and you can feel the power and energy of this reunion in every song, including the remixed pieces even when this last ones are not so good as the originals.

Muffins explores different textures and sounds with a great work on wind instruments (specially on Angle Dance) and a superb work of Mr. Frith on guitar. Totally avant garde and sometimes even close to zeuhl every song is provocative and dynamic, full of constant changes and an exquisite sense of timing. Some other highlights: Zoom Resume, Under Dali's Wing and my favourite, These Castle Children.

Definitively is not so good as Manna / Mirage but the album sounds great, outrageous and raw, complex and at the same time full of improvisations... Highly recommended to any RIO fan!!!

Report this review (#100153)
Posted Thursday, November 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars The amazing thing with The Muffins is that they've released only one album while they were together (the debut Mana/mirage) but have released some four or five albums posthumously from the period where they were indeed a group. I was never sure whether this album ever did see the light of the day before Frith actually reproduce the album by adding his own touch in 81, but by the time the second version was released, The Muffins were no more (at least I think).

In either case, we get both versions on the same disc, which is of course a treat but also a real flaw. Even though there are differences between the two versions, who really wants to sit a double dose of this RIO? That RIO is often excellent (reminding me of the better Samla Manna), crossed with some Henry Cow (what a surprise, uh? ;-) attitudes, but the weird thing is that both albums do not bear the same tracks sequence or even the exact same track list; . Often the music is more of an improvised music that borders free-jazz, without really crossing the boundary. BTW, Frith does bring something to The Muffins' music, but whatever it is, I'm not sure it was really all that positive, because I prefer the original version.

On the one hand, this album is indeed the other facet of The Muffins, but really the one that most progheads will prefer is definitely the Canterbury soundscapes that seeped through the pores of Mana/Mirage. But that doesn't make this album any less worthy, even if it less essential to this writer's eyes (or should I say ears?).

Report this review (#125515)
Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars In the book called "The Russians" there is a procedure in the story where certain classified material in libraries in the Soviet Union was stamped "<185>". This is where they came up with the title for this album.

Many people descibe the music on here as a cross between SOFT MACHINE and HENRY COW and I can't disagree. Fred Frith produced and played on this record, and it took only two days to record this album, and two days for mixing. The band heard over the years from fans and friends alike that this record did not sound like them. Which is why on this cd we have two versions of "<185>", with the second version being a re-mix from the original master tapes. They didn't re-mix the three improvs from the original album though, just skipping them completely. Apparently the re-mixed version is about as close to what this band sounds live as you'll here. I personally much prefer this version mainly because it sounds much cleaner and clearer to me. As usual with this band we get a lot of sax, clarinet and flute, along with piano, organ, violin, guitar, drums, bass and fuzz bass.

This band should be held in high esteem in my opinion, they're absolutely brilliant with the challenging and innovative music they present. I consider "<185>" to be an important part of my collection.

Report this review (#175018)
Posted Monday, June 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Wow! I wasn't expecting to be blown away by this like that! This is smokin'!! I got this fairly recently with big concerns since I read it was much jazzier and very different from the canterbury style of Manna/Mirage, and I must say yes it is all that but who cares when the music is so good and exciting? Now If you don't consider Air Fiction (1000 copies) which was a private release offered only by mail by the band to be a proper release, 185 was their second and final album before regrouping 20 years later.185 is a different beast than what came before, by late 1979 and early 1980 the band's sound was gradually changing, their canterbury gentle jazz rock stylings are giving way to a harder edged sound, Dave Newhouse is playing less keyboards and writing pieces for 2 saxes bass and drums. Another thing that had a huge influence on their music was Fred Frith moving to NY in the late 70's and becoming friends with the band, he even featured them as a backup band on one side of his solo LP Gravity which brought their name to the attention of many more listeners. As we all know punk, new wave, heavier style of rock music and whatever... pushed aside mostly instrumental bands that played exceedingly complex anti dance music, by late 1980 frustrations inside the band were mounting as years of hard work were not paying off. Finally when they were ready to record this album there was enough tension and disagreement about recording it that they decided to bring in Frith as producer to take all decisions. Not enough that the band were already struggling to keep it together, when 185 sells even more poorly than they had hoped and received almost no press attention, 3 months after that they sadly disbanded.

While on Manna/Mirage woodwinds were already playing a big role but in a more melodic and playful kinda way closer to the canterbury style, here it's definitely jazzier/RIO, and with Frith on board and as an inspiration naturally the material sounds closer to Henry Cow or Picchio Dal Pozzo than anything. But still although being quite dissonant and more towards RIO than classic jazz, I found this to be much more digestible and easy than I thought it would be since it has some clear rock inluences thanks to the rhythm section. The music is quite often upbeat, Billy Swan's bass is a real highlight here, delivering impressive workouts and of course his delicious fuzzed distortion bass. Drummer Paul Sears also contributes to this album sounding rockier since he's not taking this to jazz realms. Both Frith and Swan contribute electric guitars here and there, they don't come to the fore but weaved in under the mix to spice up the sound.

Since there were quite a lot of criticism over the years about this album not sounding like The Muffins, the CD version released in 1996 by Cuneiform include the original LP as it was released and adds a remix of 7 out of the 10 original tracks without Frith's electronic manipulations to them and also keeping overdubs to a minimum, throwing away a lot of different parts for the purpose of allowing you to hear how the band sounded live. The original version does take the material even further away from Manna/Mirage with all kinds of electronic treatment to the woodwinds and to the mix, I personally think it's most welcomed and tastefuly done, making this album a bit more unique and intriguing, plus all the overdubs later taken out made the album sound richer and fuller. I think it would be quite hard to take all of this in one sitting first because of the nature of the music and second because it's the same songs over again, I like both versions in the CD but I think the original mix with Frith's additions is by far the better one and the most interesting.

You can see that the band is exploring a few directions, sounds and moods and even sparsly adding some vocals. The music is mostly energetic, the compositions are wild and progressive taking in a few ideas into one song, although the material is written there's enough room for improvisation (at least it sounds like it) without falling into the boring noodling trap. Woodwinds with an emphasis on saxophones are leading the way but instead of being jazzy it is for the most part in the RIO style, I don't find it to be too detached or out there at all, David Newhouse certainly knows how to craft some exciting pieces while still remaining on the ground and making it as accessible as RIO can get. The arrangements including mostly a few saxophones and clarinet are just stellar, the playing is superb it's easy to see that these guys are professionals, the ideas are diversed and interesting and the whole thing is just so fun to listen to. A big chunk of the music is pretty aggressive propelled by Billy Swan's big fuzzed bass and Newhouse/Scott squeaking and shrieking woodwinds, the best example would be Queenside with an almost heavy metal riff, quirky saxophones and some cool singing. I guess only The Muffins can go into more weird territories like in Dream Beat or Under Dali's Wing and still sound wonderful and logical.

So although the band's style had changed from Manna/Mirage I think 185 can still appeal to fans since the musicianship is still there and the writing is strong, worth checking out anyway. Anyone who's looking to get into RIO this would be an excellent starting point, you do have to give it time to grow on you but I assure you it will be very rewarding. 4.5 stars rounded down.

Report this review (#2411880)
Posted Tuesday, June 9, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars Perhaps it's no surprise that 185 - the last studio album by the Muffins before a long hiatus - saw their sound shifting from the sunny Canterbury climate of Manna/Mirage into colder and more confrontational RIO territory, given the presence of Fred Frith as a producer (and some occasional guest spots on guitar).

Frith was returning the favour here, since the Muffins had served as his backing group on the second side of Gravity (with Samla Mammas Manna doing the honours on the first side); his endorsement of the group to this extent is testament to how well the Muffins "got" the Canterbury/RIO style, and on 185 they further demonstrate an ability to not merely imitate their influences, but innovate and push this style of music forwards, making this album an important link between the European roots of the RIO movement and its later expressions in the US such as Thinking Plague and the Cuneiform label.

Report this review (#3036748)
Posted Thursday, April 11, 2024 | Review Permalink

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