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The Muffins

Canterbury Scene

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The Muffins Chronometers album cover
3.78 | 45 ratings | 11 reviews | 13% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1993

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Chronometers (22:59)
2. Come What Molten Cloud (2:52)
3. Apparently (3:31)
4. Courtesy of Your Focal Interest Span (0:44)
5. Please Do Not Open Dr. Fischer (2:23)
6. The Manilla Robots (2:21)
7. Joe Crop on a Toxic Planet (5:09)
8. The Bush (2:41)
9. Mammoth Hide (1:34)
10. Creature Comforts (1:29)
11. Like a Machine That Only Works When It's...(1:59)
12. Look at the Size of That Sponge (1:45)
13. Early American Ears (1:15)
14. Three Days That Won't Soon Fade (2:53)
15. You Eat Them Pears (5:05)
16. Peacocks, Leopards, and Glass (3:38)
17. Crezner Ok (3:40)
18. Blind Cave Tetra (2:46)
19. Evening Hataiva (1:37)
20. Six Thick Thistle Sticks (0:31)
21. L (1:24)

Total Time: 72:16

Line-up / Musicians

- Michael Zentner / guitar, harmonica, violin, vocals
- Dave Newhouse / electric piano, organ, toy xylophone, percussion, vocals
- Tom Scott / flute, soprano & alto saxophones, clarinets, oboe, melodica, xylophone, bell tree, vocals
- Billy Swan / bass, organ, percussion, vocals
- Stuart Abramowitz / drums, vocals

Releases information

Recordings from 1975-76, transfered & mixed by Kit Watkins & Steven Feigenbaum in 1992

Artwork: Matt Howarth

CD Cuneiform Records ‎- 55007 (1993, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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THE MUFFINS Chronometers ratings distribution

(45 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(13%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(53%)
Good, but non-essential (29%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

THE MUFFINS Chronometers reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is a collection of out takes and demos recorded mostly in the mid 70s and finally released on this splendid CD by Cunieform in 1992. Parts of this may be familiar to some listeners - an edited version of the title track was released on the Recommended Records sampler in the early 80s, for instance - but this CD is probably the best introduction for the newcomer and essential for any devoted fan.

The Muffins absorbed a lot of the Canterbury style, but stayed closer to the tongue in cheek approach of Hatfield and the North than the more avant prog stylings of Henry Cow or Soft Machine. They also had a definite American feel, despite their anglophilia, an effect particularly noticeable on the 23 minute title track which blends dialogue from The Wizard of Oz with some nimble jazz guitar and multi tracked reeds playing Zappa-esque chords. This epic justifies the price of the CD on its own, but what follows mostly lives up the high standard. Much of it sounds like it was recorded in one marathon session, rather than in dribs and drabs over half a decade, although some of the shorter pieces do have the feel of half finished sketches.

Chronometers is an essential introduction to a remarkable band, and is also a good taster for the Canterbury sound in general. Highly recommended.

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

This album is more of a compilation of various recordings that took place before The Muffins released their debut album. So as an album/unit, this one is not really flowing that well together, but named after the lengthy Chronometers, to which the Cuneiform label gave it (in 93) the great artwork, it represents the early "formative" years of the Muffins as a quintet: Newhouse, Swann and Scott were there, but Abramowitz was holding the drum stool (instead of Sears) and there was an extra Zentner (guitar, violin) player.

The overall feeling is still one of Canterbury's spirits meeting with the Cow from Henry and the Mother of Zappa. The title track is of course the single most impressive track, but is hardly without its share of flaws, but certainly for an early summer of 76, this is still quite a feat given that it was not to be released.

Most of the other tracks (all dating from the previous fall) are under the 3'30" length (except for two that are around 5 minutes) and we are struck with the sense that they are not entirely finished, most likely waiting for a future assembling that never came. Molten Clouds and Apparently are both excellent tracks that National Health would not disown, but if the much shorter Interest Span and Dr. Fischer mesh quite well as a unit (so do Blind Cave and Evening later in the album), not the same can be said about the rest of the tracks, even if there is some obvious care at the sequence they are presented in. However disjointed this album maybe, most of the excerpts are quite enjoyable (Toxic Planet, Bush, the spoken lyrics of Three Days and the superb Peacocks), but others are much less interesting and sound completely unrefined or unfinished (Manilla Robots, Size Of That Sponge and Mammoth Hide) or some lack interest (Creature Comfort, Early American Ears and the weak Pears).

After these sessions, Abramowitz and Zentner would leave the group, leaving The Muffins to tour as an improvising trio, before Paul Sears would then join them. While not as exhilarating as their proper debut album Mirage, Chronometers might be the second most essential Muffins icon you should own, even if Open City (yet another pre- debut recording session) and 185 have their own arguments.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars This is a compilation of unreleased material that was recorded around 1975-1976. On the Wayside Music site they descibe this record as THE MUFFINS most Canterburian. As Syzygy suggests this is an excellent place for someone to check out how this band sounds. Bands that came to mind were HATFIELD AND THE NORTH, NATIONAL HEALTH, Frank Zappa and HENRY COW.

The album opens with the 23 minute title track. I'm not a big fan of the intro but it's very short, and when the melody arrives before a minute i'm hooked. Love the sound. The song changes so often though,which is part of it's charm. Clarinet leads the way for a while. Sax and guitar are up next before 4 minutes. A calm 8 minutes in as we get samples from a movie? that ends in a funny way 10 1/2 minutes in. Some fuzz before 11 minutes as a strong psychedelic flavour comes in. Some nice guitar and piano follows. Funny Zappa-like vocals say "Travelling through time is not such a hot way to go." Tempo starts to pick up briefly then flute joins in. The song stops dead 16 minutes in and when it comes back it sounds like we're listening to a bunch of drunks at a party. Haha. Music plays in the background. Drums then xylophone 18 minutes in. Total chaos 19 1/2 minutes in. Violin follows. What a journey that was. "Come What Molten Cloud" features violin and light drums. Keys and bass are also prominant. "Apparently" is a cool, jazzy tune with clarinet, light drums and some nice guitar. The next song is less then a minute of some great uptempo music that blends into "Please Do Not Open Dr.Fischer" where sax, bass and guitar shine.

"The Manilla Robots" is a funny instrumental of drums, clarinet, fuzzed out guitar and sax all taking part. "Joe Crop On A Toxic Planet" opens with lots of dissonance. It does calm down though as we even get some aboe. A change before 3 minutes as it turns into an uptempo guitar / drum driven tune. Violin 4 1/2 minutes in as it blends into "The Bush" an uptempo tune with flute, light drums, keys and guitar leading the way. The next five songs are all under 2 minutes. Then we get "Three Days That Won't Soon Fade" a very humerous story about a detective. The Zappa spirit lives here. Excellent piano to end it. "You Eat Them Pears" features piano, guitar, drums, clarinet, sax, flute and harmonica as the tempo shifts. "Peacocks, Leopards And Glass" is a relaxing tune that I like a lot. "Crezner OK" has a mellow intro with liquid keys. It changes quickly though as violin, bass and drums lead the way. It calms back down with some sax 2 minutes in. Nice. Keys and especially guitar standout a minute later. "Blind Cave Terta" is a mellow song with intricate sounds and some spacey ones as well. It become volitile 2 minutes in. "Evening Hataiya" is a jazzy little tune. Violin a minute in. "L" opens with some fine guitar playing before a jazzy climate takes over.

I really like this kind of music, these guys can really play. Although there may be lots of shorter tracks, they often blend into each other without me even knowing. Excellent release.

Review by SaltyJon
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Chronometers is a collection of unreleased recordings from the mid 70s by the Muffins. The album has tracks of all sizes, starting with the title track epic at 22 minutes, down to tracks which barely last for half a minute. The album was released by Cuneiform, and gives listeners a good idea of what the Muffins were doing before releasing their excellent debut. The pieces are generally pretty good. Some parts of tracks, however, don't do too much for me. For example, the title track has random bits where they inserted clips from The Wizard of Oz or re-enacted them themselves, and it just doesn't seem to have much of a point to me. To be fair, it does add a certain dream-like, surreal atmosphere to the track, and it doesn't detract much from the piece, but it doesn't add too much for me either. I definitely prefer the epics on Manna/Mirage. The album as a whole is similar in style to that album, but it seems less focused, less well-prepared than their official debut to me. The album seems to me to be just a tad bit too long as well, as it's almost full to the brim. Some of the tracks feel like they could have been cut, but then again a lot of the tracks after the epic seem to run into each other to make multi-track epics of their own.

Overall, it's an enjoyable listen, but not one that I think is quite as essential to every prog collection. Obviously if you're a fan of their style of music you'll want to snap it up while you can, but for new listeners of the band I'd suggest starting with their debut. Four stars from me.

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The whole dark period of the early Muffins' history came to an end with all these archival releases poppin' out here and there.So in 1975 the trio of keyboardist/saxophonist Dave Newhouse, guitarist Michael Zentner and bassist Billy Swann was accompanied by wind instrumentalist Tom Scott and drummer Stuart Abramowitz.This line-up recorded a great number of tracks between 1975 and 1976, which finally saw the light almost 20 years later with the great documentary release ''Chronometers'' by Cuneiform Records.

''Chronometers'' refers to the grand 23-min. epic recorded by the group between May and June 76' at The Muffins' studio.This is really The Muffins at their best, showing great instrumental diversity and a phrenomenal ability to switch between unrelated themes and music styles.It comes like a cross between demanding Jazz Rock, elegant Canterbury Fusion (to which The Muffins listened a lot around the time), quirky Avant-Prog, US vilolin-driven KANSAS-like Hard Prog and even dreamy Symphonic Rock.No need to mention there are endless changing themes throughout the composition, ranging from inventive guitar-based jazzy solos and Canterbury-influenced rich interplays in the vein of SUPERSISTER, CARAVAN or NATIONAL HEALTH to ZAPPA-esque vocal breaks with theatrical/satirical tendencies and tons of saxes/clarinets and folky/symphonic soundscapes with warm flute parts in the vein of GENESIS.This track alone is a good reason to hunt this very nice archival work.The rest of the album contains 20 more, mostly instrumental, tunes, of a short length, some of them sound not fully developed or fairly unfinished, others sound completely connected like creating a longer piece, and come from recordings around November 75' at Paragon Studios in Silver Spring.These follow more or less the vein of the grand eponymous track, showing the direction the band was heading in the mid-70's.Quirky, sometimes frenetic, energetic, passionate and diverse Progressive Rock with Jazz, Canterbury, R.I.O. and Fusion influences, highlighted by the impressive interplays and the extremely high level of technique of the group.

One of the archival releases from the past that need to be in your collection.The title track is excellent and the rest of the shorter tunes are satisfying as well.Strongly recommended to all fans of Progressive Rock.

Review by ALotOfBottle
4 stars Despite releasing their first album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978, The Muffins had been functioning long before, being formed in 1973. Before their debut, the group recorded numerous studio and home demos, mainly at a large farmhouse in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which they had moved into, naming it the Buba Flirf house. In 1993, Cuneiform Records released a compilation of these recordings from around 1975, under the name Chronometers. At the time, the line-up was different from that on Manna/Mirage, with a guitarist and violinist, Michael Zentner, and Stuart Abramowitz on drums.

The Muffins' style on Chronometers is quite similar to that of their debut album. Their distinct Canterbury-inspired sound is very much present, but at times seems to be characterized by a greater amount of eclecticism and musical diversity. That might, at least partly, be caused by a greater variety of instruments. Tones of Fender Rhodes electric piano, the interplay of Henry Cow-like woodwinds, a xylophone, groovy basslines are now enriched with a mellow, jazzy electric guitar, opening a whole new plethora of possibilities, as well as a virtuosic violin, which gives the material a RIO-like flavor. Similarly to their debut album, the instrumentalism is nearly flawless. The members find themselves comfortable in complex, intricate, jazz-rock-fueled arrangements, dripping with unorthodox time signatures, harmonic sophistication, and difficult improvisational parts, to name a few. Chronometers is also full of tongue-in-cheek arrangements, reminiscent of Hatfield and the North or Egg, a key element to the Canterbury sound. Compared to Manna/Mirage, the music on the album relies on improvisation to a much greater extent. The tracks do not create an impression of lengthy, organized pieces like on The Muffins' debut, but rather that of short musical miniatures compiled together. This gives a great diversity between the pieces.

The album opens with "Chronometers", the lengthiest and the most representative track of the album. In construction and the overall feel, it shares an affinity with "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang", a 23-minute epic from the band's debut. However, one is likely to notice, that "Chronometers" has its own, unique feel, quite different from the previously mentioned piece. It begins with a catchy motif, which utilizes a pixiphone and a mouth harp. Going through various dynamically contrasted jams, every musician gets a chance to display their instrumental skill ? Michael Zentner on guitar, Dave Newhouse on keyboards and wind instruments, and Tom Scott on saxophones. On one of the more soft, ambient passages, the group introduces samples and, more prominently, dialogues from The Wizard of Oz, with a comic, yet somewhat ominous and unsettling feel. After many variations, the track closes with a descending soundscape, somewhat reminiscent of Mike Oldfield, with Canterbury flavoring. I feel like reviewing other twenty one "miniatures" separately would be aimless so let me just say that they have a great diversity between them and their short format just adds to that impression. One is likely to find similarities with Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North, Egg, Sammla Mammas Manna, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa, Supersister, Moving Gelatine Plates, Caravan, Gentle Giant, and even Mahavishnu Orchestra. The tracks range from almost ambient compositions to elaborate jazz-rock pieces to free-form avant-garde mayhem. The tracks that in my opinion especially deserve attention are "Three Days That Won't Soon Fade", with its spoken word parts, "Look at the Size of that Sponge", driven by impressive violin playing, and "Apparently", which showcases Michael Zentner's jazzy guitar playing.

Chronometers is not only an incredibly rewarding musical journey, full of surprising, baffling moments, but also an important historical document, presenting The Muffins' musical style before their debut album, Manna/Mirage. Furthermore, these are the only recordings by The Muffins to feature Michael Zentner on guitar and Stuart Abramowitz on drums. Chronometers is an uncommonly enjoyable, fresh-sounding, innovative, vigorous, and unique album. Highly recommended to all Canterbury scene fans!

Review by Warthur
4 stars Another entry in Cuneiform's excellent range of archival RIO/Canterbury releases, Chronometers is a selection of early works by the jazzy, Canterbury-influenced Muffins. It consists of demo recordings by the 1975-1976 lineup of the band - Newhouse, Scott and Swan are in place, but Sears hasn't arrived yet and the group is joined by Michael Zentner on guitar and Stuart Abramowitz on drums. Whilst you might expect the sound quality of some mid-1970s demo tapes to be a bit shaky, actually the release sounds remarkably fresh - evidently the original engineering was pretty decent and the tapes were well-preserved, and Kit Watkins & Steven Feigenbaum did a fine archaeological job of preparing them for release.

In fact, some of the tunes flow together in such a way that it's hard not to see this as more than a mere odds and sods collection, but a lost Muffins double album in its own right; the general aesthetic approach is reasonably consistent throughout, as you'd expect given that this was recorded over a reasonably tight span of time by the same lineup. I wouldn't say it's quite on the level of the band's excellent debut, Manna/Mirage, but it's certainly getting there.

Review by Sagichim
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is not really a studio album but a compilation of songs, outtakes and whatever the band recorded before Manna/Mirage was released. Chronometers represents The Muffins early musical style and it's the only document to feature them as a 5 piece band consisting of 3 co founding members (Newhouse, Scott and Swann, that were still active in the band before their second break up a few years ago) and two more musicians Michael Zentner on guitars and Stuart Abramowitz on drums. All songs were recorded in late 75' early 76' and shows the band initial influences by canterbury bands. In spite of being recorded in multiple sessions the whole thing sounds unified and the sound quality is surprisingly very good! The music is mostly soft and pleasant, very jazzy and light. In spite of being their jazziest album there's less emphasis on woodwinds here, Dave Newhouse is playing a lot of keyboards as opposed to their later recordings in the late 70's. There are 21 tracks here while the first one is a 22 minute piece, the rest range from 30 seconds to 5 minutes but most of them are between 2 to 3 minutes. That's actually the problem I have with the album because I can't help but feel that a lot of them are unfinished or just an initial versions of their ideas, however being such amazing musicians they still manage to pull it off brilliantly. Their style is not that far off from Manna/Mirage and yet it is different, their canterbury inspired instrumentals are enriched with Zentner's clean and jazzy guitar hooks, he often comes out with lovely jazzy runs albeit nothing mind blowing. There's a good range of instruments like violin, flute, saxes and clarinets mostly played by the great Tom Scott but with all of those the music sounds kind of samey to me, I guess because of the organ that is the most dominant. As expected from The Muffins the music is intricate and complex with a lot of room for improvisation, their jazz rock stylings is loaded with sophistication and unusual time signatures, and the playing is simply superb throughout.

The 22 minute Chronometers is the best track here although not without its flaws, it's really weird that this kind of lengthy piece with all of its ideas was shelved by the band and wasn't intended to be released. The band since then released two albums before dissolving in 1981, and no part of this piece ever made its way to one of their two albums, so for a Muffins fan this piece is worth having this album alone. Chronometers (the song) is a little bit different from the rest, probably because the music has more room to develop, it's definitely not a cohesive piece but for a first attempt at arranging this kind of opus this is fine. Instead of being a unified piece with a logical progression it's more a representation of their diverse ideas and their excellent playing chops. This is a little bit less jazzy than the rest of the album and resembles more of what to come in their debut, there's also some RIO hints here and there which is great. The other 20 songs although being very short sounds as if recorded in the same session and bear such a natural flow between them, sounds to me as some of them were meant to go together. You get tons of ideas here that shows their diverse aspirations, some are better than the others but it never gets bad. Their RIO influences are cut to a minimum and you get mostly jazz inspired delicious canterbury instrumentals reminding me of Soft Machine, Sammla Mammas Manna, Hatefield And The North, Supersister and some Frank Zappa. This is definitely worth having but not the place to start with this incredible band, personally I prefer Manna/Mirage or their next challenging much more RIO tinged album 185. 3.5 stars.

Latest members reviews

4 stars I love muffins, so... sometime ago I needed to try this band. When I randomly found this 1993 album from a Wahington DC band, I had no idea of the oldschool Canterbury feeling I would taste. Maybe becaus THIS IS NOT from the 90s. This is a compilation of unreleased band material from 1975. ... (read more)

Report this review (#1005675) | Posted by VOTOMS | Friday, July 26, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Chronometers is great. First Muffins I ever heard was an excerpt from Chronometers on a Recommended Records sampler. It made me want to pursue whatever else the band had done, and eventually I found it all. ... (read more)

Report this review (#81672) | Posted by davEy | Wednesday, June 21, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Fantastic sounds from the vault! Here you get a bit more of the Manna/ Mirage sound. Only in Open City could you get a few pieces of vintage muffins. Great canterbury / Mothers styled prog with some heavy injection of unique-ness. Really the Muffins are as good and and great as any of the englis ... (read more)

Report this review (#35450) | Posted by | Monday, June 6, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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