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The Muffins - Open City CD (album) cover


The Muffins

Canterbury Scene

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4 stars This album is a real goodie! It contains previously unreleased material from The MUFFINS; recorded 1977-1980, including outtakes from "Manna/Mirage" and Fred Frith's "Gravity" LP, live performances and demos. Although the album contains live performances and demos, the sound quality is really good. The MUFFINS music is a blend of GONG, HATFIELD AND THE NORTH, HENRY COW, MAGMA and SOFT MACHINE. The main part of the material is complex and all- instrumental. Often the songs are closer to Jazz then Rock. Some sort of avant-garde free form jazz that is really amazing. This album is interesting both as a supplement for the collector and as an introduction for newcomers to the band.
Report this review (#27699)
Posted Monday, February 16, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This CD present backwards tracks recorded from their beginnnigs to the end of the bands first life. The last tracks being the less interesting to the Canterbury music lover, the CD present still plenty of very good tracks. Almost as good as their first LP.
Report this review (#36883)
Posted Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars This "other" compilation (the better other being Chronometers) was released in 94, but contains for the most part of a home session in 80, two tracks from a solo Fred Frith album where The Muffins played back-up band, and four tracks dating from different sources in 77, previous to the recording of their debut album Mirage.

Of the seven tracks that form the home sessions, there is one (Hobart, the better one, too) that comes from their Mirage album, and overall, the session is not well recorded and lacks much interest. The sound is harsher and more uncompromising and avant-garde than on their Mirage album. The Firth album tracks are (as you'd guess) even more versed in the RIO than normal Muffin tracks. With the Switzerland track being quite interesting. Of the 77-track batch, Blind Arch is a lengthy (9-minutes) live improv, not bringing much else than boredom, with the possible expression of In The Red (Nucleus anyone?) and the excellent (and lengthy) Not Alone.

This second early "unreleased works" compilation lacks the pure brilliance of Chronometers and is a far cry from the debut album Manna/Mirage. Try out the full-blown prog studio albums, and then maybe come back to this one.

Report this review (#123307)
Posted Friday, May 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. I had pretty low expectations considering that this is a compilation album of outtakes, demos, live excerpts and songs from radio shows. Or something like that. First of all the sound quality is excellent and not sub-par in the least. We get a couple of guests in Mark Hollander from AKSAK MABOUL and Fred Frith whom most here will know. I liked this from the first listen and man there's a lot of horns on this one. In fact a variety of sax and clarinet along with flute and aboe. ZAPPA, HENRY COW and SOFT MACHINE all came to mind at various times. I believe all of these tracks were recorded in 1980 or close to that year but not released until 1985.

"Queenside" opens with fuzz along with determined piano and drums as they hit the ground running. Vocals and blasting horns a minute in then there's that fuzz again. Love this stuff. Dissonant horns after the vocals stop before 2 minutes as it becomes insane, then it settles in with lots of horns as the bass and drums help out. A Zappa vibe after 2 1/2 minutes then we get more dissonant horns before 4 minutes as the intensity rises.

"Hobart Got Burned" has this innovative and interesting start with experimental sounds, and a tension in the background that is building until it kicks into gear and the tempo picks up as the horns cry out over top. So good! Unlike that sentence. "Horsebones" has horns all over the intro but it all stops as we then get this dissonant, and I mean dissonant horn(haha). A beat kicks in as it builds after a minute. Horns will dominate again. It winds down late to end it.

"Antidote To Drydock" opens with what sounds like bass clarinet and eventually sparse sounds will come and go as the horn continues until it kicks in before 2 1/2 minutes. It's more intense 3 minutes in, just insane with all of these sounds coming at us at a high speed. So impressive. "Zoom Resume" hits us full blast from the start with mostly horns.

"Boxed & Crossed" is complex with so much going on. It does settle back though which I also find interesting. Vocals 2 minutes in and soon they are shouting the lyrics. The bass and drums seem to mimic the horns after 3 minutes. It turns dark with almost whispered vocals before 4 minutes and this continues to the end. So good! "Under Dali's Wing" is dominated early by drums and horns. Some vibes before 1 1/2 minutes followed by some vocal expressions, bass then dissonant horns. They are having fun.

"Vanity, Vanity" and the next song "Dancing In Sunrise, Switzerland" are two of my favourites and Frith plays guitar and piano on both while Mark Hollander plays alto sax on the first of the two. I absolutely love both of these tracks. "Blind Arch" also hits the spot for me big time. I just like how it sounds like the band is warming up with all of the sparse sounds coming and going. Love the fuzz and electric piano especially. Horns eventually join in and is that aboe 5 1/2 minutes in? The distorted keyboards late bring Canterbury to mind for me.

"Expected Freedom" is an interesting song with that suspense in the background from the tension and the off-kiltered sounds over top. "In The Red" is another killer track and one of my favourites. It opens with electric piano and sparse sounds. I like the flute and bass just before 3 minutes then a horn starts to lead the way. I still like that bass as well as the drum work. It's all so good! Check out the e-piano before 4 1/2 minutes as the bass and drum just kill.

"Not Alone" is a long one at over 13 1/2 minutes. It's jazzy to start out with drums, bass and electric piano before the horns kick in. It's fuller 1 1/2 minutes in then the flute comes in over top. The lead instruments will keep changing though. Such a pleasant and beautiful sound 2 1/2 minutes in. Oh, man I dig this section. The tempo picks up 4 minutes in and then the flute returns. It settles back as the flute continues. Quite the instrumental display 7 minutes. How impressive is the drumming and piano especially. Fuzz follows. The bass leads after 9 minutes then it kicks in again with horns. It settles 10 minutes in with electric piano only to follow. Beautiful sound. It kicks in again with sax over top to the end.

"Open City" is short but that's my only complaint with this live piece. It opens with clapping before electric piano, bass and drums kick in and man they all impress.

This has shot to number 4 on my best of list for 1985, it's that good! This is a great record but then THE MUFFINS have a lot of those.

Report this review (#1742375)
Posted Monday, July 10, 2017 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I was surprised of how much I ended up liking this, I usually don't like to get albums containing the same material appearing in the studio albums unless they are different versions, but being a huge fan I thought well why not? and man I'm so glad I did. This excellent compilation gathers all kind of material recorded at various sessions that wasn't intended for release except for 3 pieces. The pieces are arranged chronologically starting with the band's latest work (around 1980) and making their way to the earliest (around 1975). The first 7 tracks formed the band's final demo tape, and 5 out of these 7 tracks appeared on their second and final album <185> , they were recorded live in their basement rehearsal studio by their soundman and road manager. These are rawer versions than the ones on the studio album which demonstrates just how incredibly these guys could nail those complex pieces. As it is said the band (and fans) always thought that those versions in the <185> album being manipulated and enriched by Fred Frith which was the producer of the album, didn't really sounded like them (something that was fixed in the <185> reissue in 1996), so I guess this material released in this compilation in 1985 was released first of all to show how they performed these compositions live without overdubs, and man these versions are smoking!!

Like the album <185> Open City is in the same direction close to Henry Cow and Picchio Dal Pozzo RIO/canterbury inspired tunes but quite accessible thanks to it being energetic, rocky, upbeat and aggressive. The playing is supreb and tight, the live versions really demonstrates the band in the peak of their powers, you can tell that these guys were practicing their ass off. The compositions are wild and progressive, accomodating tons of diverse ideas, propelled by Newhouse and Scott exquisite woodwinds playing. The material is written but also leaves a lot of room for fun improvisation. The schizoid opener Queenside is one of their noisiest and most aggressive tracks ever with Billy Swann's distorted bass lines almost borders doom metal like riff. I love the vocals here topped with wacky saxes blaring. Hobart Got Burned appeared originally on Manna/Mirage as a longer piece, what a brilliant song that is, including soaring clarinets and a fat fuzzy distorted bass that hits you on the head. Horsebones, Antidote to Drydock, Zoom Resume and Under Dali's Wing all from <185> are all impressive pieces with their distinct frantic playing, there isn't one second wasted, contrasting jazz with dense agitated manic outbursts. Boxed & Crossed is the only piece left out from <185> not sure why, it's in the same vein as the rest and just as good with its off the wall arrangements and ideas, an essential discovery for the fans. Vanity Vanity and Dancing in Sunrise, Switzerland are both fantastic outtakes from Fred Frith's solo album Gravity sessions on which The Muffins participated, Fred is playing guitar here. They are very different from each other, Vanity is rockier with an edgy rhythm while Dancing is lighter and much more positive such a cool track. Blind Arch said to be an excerpt from a live improvisation in their back yard, this is calmer and much more jazzy than the rest, very nicely done if you're a fan of those things, it's a good rest from the previous tracks. Expected Freedom is an outtake from Manna/Mirage, it has a weird and disturbing atmosphere to it, quite short but good overall. In The Red is another beautiful improvisation, man these guys could really come up with some original stuff. Not Alone is the lengthiest piece here and dates way back to the time when they were a 5 piece band (their material was documented on their other compilation Chronometers), this version was recorded after Paul Sears joining. It's another great example of the kind of jazzy improvisation they were doing at that time, it's nothing like the jazzy noodling meandering kind of stuff, on the contrary it's much more structured and yet free containing delightful and elegant playing.

Shockingly these recordings were never intended for release, I consider this to be an essential Muffins recording that shows how much talent was in this band. everything is really original and extremely creative, running successfully through so many ideas and executed with a lot of free spirit. Very recommended to fans of RIO, canterbury and jazz. 4+ stars.

Report this review (#2413632)
Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2020 | Review Permalink

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