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THE MUFFINS

Canterbury Scene • United States


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The Muffins biography
The MUFFINS are Canterbury influenced quartet formed in Washington D.C. in the year of 1973 by Dave Newhouse (keyboards, reeds), Billy Swan (bass) and Michael Zenterner (guitar, violin). The new group remains nameless until one day, while the trio are discussing upon potential names, a friend of there's enters the house and shouts "The muffins are hear!" and conveying a tray of blueberry muffins, thus the band is born! A number of drummers are recruited off and on during the next few months. In the fall of 1974, reediest, Tom Scot joins The MUFFINS, moves in with band, starts to rehearse and Dave starts to compose new material. In the fall of 1975, drummer Stewart Abramowitz joins and the band starts recording demos in the studio and at home that would end up on the album released under Cuneiform label: "Chronometers". In the summer of 1976 after a few gigs, Michael and Stewart leave the band, leaving the group to become a trio. While they are a trio, they tour as in improvising group. In the fall of 1976, they met drummer Paul Sears at a gig. Paul was satisfied of what he heard and joined immediately, thus the setting of The MUFFINS popular era.

They start touring and eventually record their first LP entitled: "Manna/Mirage". After that release, they tour some more, become quite popular in the college circuit and receive much college radio airplay. Then Fred Frith (former guitarist of HENRY COW) moves to New York, becomes well acquainted with the band and his music is quite the influence on them. Fred also features them as a backup band on Fred's first solo album "Gravity". Therefore leads to their R.I.O. influenced second album "185" which is produced by Fred Frith. Then after the release and a show in Penn State College University, they disband. In 1998, they reform for a little reunion show, resulting in the release of "Bandwidth" in 2002. Their sound is strongly influenced by the Jazz-Rock tendencies of SOFT MACHINE, the improvisational techniques of HENRY COW and the quirky song structures of HATFIELD & THE NORTH and MOTHER'S OF INVENTION.



"Manna/Mirage" is an essential release, recommended to all of those that are fans of Canterbury, or Jazz-Rock Fusion. "185" is more R.I.O. influenced and very inconsistent, since they were on a low budget and Fred Frith's production is very evident. Their latest release "Bandwidth" shows the group expressing their sound from the previous albums. "Open City" is just a good collection of out-ta...
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Manna & MirageManna & Mirage
Cuneiform 1995
Audio CD$9.99
$9.88 (used)
BandwidthBandwidth
Cuneiform 2002
Audio CD$2.24
$1.24 (used)
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THE MUFFINS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE MUFFINS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.05 | 67 ratings
Manna/Mirage
1978
3.78 | 20 ratings
185
1980
3.81 | 28 ratings
Chronometers
1993
3.88 | 12 ratings
Bandwidth
2002
3.60 | 16 ratings
Double Negative
2004
2.29 | 5 ratings
Loveletter #2: The Ra Sessions
2005
3.88 | 14 ratings
Palindrome
2010
3.13 | 8 ratings
Mother Tongue
2012

THE MUFFINS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE MUFFINS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

THE MUFFINS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.53 | 11 ratings
Open City
1985

THE MUFFINS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

1.05 | 2 ratings
Air - Fiction
1979
2.23 | 4 ratings
Loveletter #1
2001

THE MUFFINS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Air - Fiction by MUFFINS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1979
1.05 | 2 ratings

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Air - Fiction
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

1 stars In 1979 The Muffins released an under-the-radar LP, which had neither a catalogue number nor a label, was pressed in about 1000 copies with a black front cover and was handed in gigs or sold via mail order.Title was ''Air - Fiction'', first side were home studio recordings, while the flipside was captured live on March 3rd, 1979 at Psychedelly (propably somesort of stage/club, located in Bethesda, Maryland).

If you have listened to the atonal moments in ''Hobart got burned'' from the band's debut, then you should propably know what to expect from this album in its full length.This is highly improvised R.I.O.-styled music flirting with Free Jazz and not comparable to the very interesting sound of the debut.Totally dissonant, deeply experimental, bursting a sense of freedom and getting even a bit noisy in the process, ''Air - Fiction'' should be regarded as a fun experiment by the band on loose performances.The first side contains only hints of ''Manna mirage'' in a couple of tracks, featuring bass, drums, sax and flute, otherwise this falls deeply into musical non-sense with keys, sax, flute and clarinet changing heading roles and competing for useless soloing.At least some parts remind of the dense and intercative sound of the band's debut.''Fiction'' is even worse.It tends to a rather minimalistic execution on Experimental Music with some R.I.O. influences, lacking the meanings of cohesion, structure or composition.And speaking earlier of ''Hobart got burned'', the flipside contains the abstract minutes of this piece in full live display, without noticing that this track was recorded for the band's debut.

I consider this to be a recording joke and nothing more.The band itself has admitted that this was nothing more than a short experiment.Recommended only for die-hard fans of the group and starving prog collectors.

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 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.05 | 67 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars In 1976 Michael Zentner and Stuart Abramowitz decided to leave The Muffins and the remaining trio recruited talented drummer Paul Sears.Four years after their formation the band still struggled to find some success, even if they had built an underground following in the narrow limits of the Maryland area.In 1977 the quartet decided to move to a house in Rockville, which they transformed into their own studio.Next step was to establish their own record label, thus Random Radar Records was born with the help of Steve Feigenbaum, future leader of Cuneiform Records.Their debut was eventually in the making at the Catch-A-Buzz Studio with four members playing multiple instruments and receiving help by Steve Feigenbaum on guitar, Doug Elliot on trombone, Larry Elliot and Greg Yaskovich on trumpet and John Schmidt on horns.It was entitled ''Manna mirage'', released in 1978.

The short opener ''Monkey with the golden eyes'' followed the trends of laid-back Canterbury Prog ala CARAVAN/NATIONAL HEALTH with smooth electric piano, melodic flutes, some sax breaks and great clarinet parts, developing into a melancholic outro.For half of its part ''Hobart got burned'' sounds like a hybrid of Experimental Rock and R.I.O. with torturing saxes, dissonant bass lines and abstract drumming, but the after-middle offering is a masterful, dramatic, instrumental Progressive Rock with bombastic saxes, furious electric piano and a powerful rhythm section, among the best segments ever composed by the group, with strong VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and SOFT MACHINE influences.Closing side A is the 16-min. ''Amelia Earhart'', dedicated to the first ever female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.Again the Canterbury inspirations are more than apparent through the jazzy rhythm sction, the growing and nervous keyboard plays and the unexpected sax breaks.''Amelia Earhart'' will eventually present The Muffins' beloved style in full display.This is complex, jazzy Progressive Rock with saxes, flutes and electric piano in evidence, passing though odd meters, dreamy textures, bombastic interplays and atonal soundscapes, even featuring a hypnotic, ambiental section towards the end with somber saxes and trippy synthesizers.

Very much known for their long, epic instrumentals, The Muffins' debut could not be an exception.''The adventures of Captain Boomerang'' captures the whole flipside of the original vinyl, being another example of over-the-top instrumental Prog with interesting moves, stunning interplays and influences from Jazz, R.I.O. and Canterbury Fusion.This time their style is flavored with pure passages coming from Electric Jazz, led by saxes and piano, but the sound is now more balanced, including relaxed flute-driven themes and atmospheric keyboard soundscapes.The vast majority though is driven by the passion of the band for complex and adventurous music.So this comes as another proposal of highly technical Progressive Rock with numerous shifting tempos, sharp Canterbury-styled interplays, Fusion instrumental battles and excessive sax soloing.The result is often too chaotic, but the tons of changing climates with the superb instrumental lines are definitely a thing to admire.

''Manna mirage'' belongs among the very good albums of late-70's Progressive Rock coming from the States.File next to other quirky US Prog groups such as HOWEVER and FRENCH TV, a strongly recommended album...3.5 stars.

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 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.81 | 28 ratings

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Chronometers
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by VOTOMS

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. This would be their first album. Got it? The first and lenghty track (23 minutes) is the main track, Chronometers. Is very enjoyable to listen to. It's like a soft-Soft Machine. Avant-Garde, but not so avant as Henry Cow. It features samplers from the Wizard of Oz and strange multi-tracked stuff. It's a calm freak music. I'm a very fan of weird and avant music, but the first time I have tried this album I felt that it was disorganized, and the order of passages should be rearranged. But after the second time I have tried this out, everything made sense. The rest of the album is made of short avant free jazz tracks, maybe most of them was recorded in a role, and I like them all. My favorite moment of the album is Joe Crop on a Toxic Plantet's intro. That's totally out of control! Great album.

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 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.05 | 67 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by chamberry
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars It's a dark Canterbury Scene-like album, compared to what's usually heard in other acts, like Caravan, Supersister or early Soft Machine. The music here sounds riskier too with tight arrangements and mindf*cking compositions. Not one song is wasted in idle play and nothing sounds forced either. As a whole the album flows just perfectly and it gets more intense as the album progresses.

This, for me, is one of the top albums from the wide-ranging Canterbury Scene and one of the more cohesively-sound albums from the Avant-prog tag (like early Henry Cow, but smoother). Hell! It's one of the best prog albums of the late 70's... Look. Just get it, man!

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 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.81 | 28 ratings

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Chronometers
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

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.

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 Palindrome by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.88 | 14 ratings

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Palindrome
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by muddymouth

4 stars Palindrome features a rejuvenated Muffins and is a huge improvement over their last two releases. They no longer seem bogged down with over-production and modern (read: 00's repeating the 80's) gimmickery. The songwriting is strong, and the production allows the songs to shine.

Some imagery conjured: A search party has set sail in an attempt to find wreckage (Amelia Earhart's?) in "Not Yet Awake". In "Fishing In America", a bathyscaphe is plumbing the depths for remains of the plane. So okay, much of this work reminds me of the Manna/Mirage era, and I make no apologies. 'Tis a good thing. On a different note, imagine a "Trick Of The Tail" outtake with Gabriel on vocals; that's where "Kingfish" takes me.

A remarkably cohesive effort for a work that I understand was assembled largely with remote contributions from the band members. Here's to modern methods and (relatively) vintage instruments!

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 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.05 | 67 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I first heard about The Muffins as the backing band for one half of Fred Frith's solo album "Gravity." As I very much enjoyed that album, this one seemed like a natural choice to check out. I will confess, however, that "Manna/Mirage" was not entirely what I was expecting. Simply due to their association with Frith, I was assuming that this would be more or less a straightforward RIO affair. While there are elements of that sound here, they're crossed into the Canterbury scene, and to my ears this album sounds much more like the latter than the former.

"Monkey With The Golden Eyes" is the first track here, and it begins the album on a decidedly jazzy note, with laid back, soothing keyboards setting the stage behind an equally tranquil flute part. What I believe is an oboe makes an appearance as well, dueting briefly with the flute before a whole host of different horns come in, slowly layering on top of one another until, in the final minute of the track, all the instruments come together to create a sedate, peaceful blend of sound. Easily the most straightforward track on the album, "Monkey With The Golden Eyes" provides a nice, accessible opening for the album, though it doesn't really give a great representation about what's coming next.

That fact is made immediately apparent from the opening notes of "Hobart Got Burned," which dismisses the peaceful sounds of the opener in favor of a dissonant horn part, very reminiscent of Henry Cow's "Western Culture." This track also sounds far more improvisation-based than "Monkey?" with a very open structure filled by wild drumming and brief, punctuated horn bursts. Midway through the track, however, keyboards and bass enter, and the track enters a much more composed section, falling back into rhythmic normalcy and taking on a kind of demented carnival feel. The horn bursts don't stop, however, with plenty of howling solos wailing over the backbone the piano and bass are laying down. A great, experimental track, "Hobart Got Burned" is much more interesting to me than "Monkey?" and proves that The Muffins can innovate with the best of them.

"Amelia Earhart" is the first of the two long tracks that finish the album. Beginning with very minimalist blend of percussion and some very faint playing from the winds, the track really kicks off at about 2 minutes in, when the keyboard begins a rather cheerful chord progression. Horns add to the sound, playing an energetic repeating line over the keyboard and giving the track a very hopeful feel. Eventually the track drops back into a more improvisational mode, with really excellent drumming providing a background for a variety of instruments to solo over. The winds and especially the flute give the track a very interesting sound, and provide a nice contrast when an electric guitar comes in and begins its own solo. A very cool low brass section follows this, followed itself by a huge variety of instruments, including something that sounds like a train whistle. With about four minutes left in the track the pace slows down a little bit; the solos stop and the track takes on a floaty, almost ambient quality. Low, throbbing bass and a psychedelic flute part give this last section of the track an amazing, dream-like feeling that serves as a wonderful outtro to an otherwise wildly energetic piece of music.

It's a bold move to follow up a track as good as "Amelia Earhart" with another epic, but "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" tries to do just that, clocking in at a hefty 23 minutes. It begins in much the same way "Amelia?" ended, with dreamy wind parts and an overall peaceful feel. The pace quickens, however, with a bombastic horn section that recalls in equal parts big band music and Henry Cow. This very jazzy motif is interspersed with more experimental sections consisting of minimal sound effects and percussion. Both of these themes, however, eventually fall away, and the track enters another long period of instrumental soloing. Despite the avant-garde sections earlier in the track, this section of "Captain Boomerang" is probably the least avant section on the album, and the one that's most akin to the more mainstream Canterbury scene. At about 12 minutes in the energy wanes a little bit, moving again into a spacier feel that slowly builds back up in intensity before dropping away again to almost nothing. A very, very faint wind part plays over some even fainter swooshing sounds, and when keyboard and horns enter again they're markedly more subdued, playing in a way that's rather reminiscent of the peaceful, smoky jazz of the first track. Another very minimal, avant garde-section follows, with long, atonal horn drones and high-pitched squealing from either horns or keyboards. Slowly, a more conventional keyboard part enters into this soundscape, and with it come more horn solos. The track ends with several wild horn parts merging into one, until finally the track ends on a sudden, squeaky chord. "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" is a very long track that feels even longer, but somehow that manages to avoid being a bad thing. Interesting playing and varied themes make for interesting listening throughout, with hardly a bad moment over the entire, massive span of the piece.

So this is a great album, no doubt. To be honest, I can't point to any specific thing that prevents this from being a five star album; it just feels like it falls a bit short, and when I'm deciding between four and five stars I tend to trust my gut and err low. Nonetheless, this is a very good album and a worthy listen for anyone who wants to hear some off-kilter, experimental psych-jazz from the late 70s. Great stuff.

4/5

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 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.05 | 67 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Muffins played a deliberately Canterbury-influenced style of music, which on this album approaches the standards of Hatfield and the North and other giants of the genre. With plentiful references to more mainstream varieties of jazz, the band clearly possess chops aplenty; rather than simply being a clone band mimicing their betters simply because that's all they know how to do, they're very obviously a set of capable jazz players who play in this mode because they have a genuine passion for it. More mellow and laid back than many of their British contemporaries, the Muffins sound on here reminds me a little of a significantly more interesting and adventurous Gilgamesh.

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 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.05 | 67 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by zravkapt
Special Collaborator Post/Math Rock Team

4 stars The Muffins are an American Canterbury group from Washington, DC. This is their first album although they had been around already for a few years. The sound is heavily influenced by both Soft Machine and Frank Zappa, and even a little bit of Henry Cow as well. This is guitarless instrumental Canterbury with lots of wind instruments. Due to the low budget recording, this album sometimes sounds more like a jazz record from the 1960s rather than a rock record from the late 1970s. Although both the sound and songs appear kind of dated for something released in 1978, it also adds a charm to the album. Sometimes less is more.

Manna/Mirage features just four tracks with one of them being a side-long epic, one of the better Canterbury epics in fact. "Monkey With The Golden Eyes" starts out like Karl Jenkins-era Soft Machine with electric piano and some flute. Some oboe(?) joins in playing lovely melodies. Later some marimba(?). Slowly some trippy organ enters the scene. The rest of the song is both dissonant and melodic. "Hobart Got Burned" continues with the drone that ends "Monkey..." Then it goes into something similar to Henry Cow in improvisation mode. After a few minutes of that the music becomes more similar to Soft Machine with the electric piano figure and awesome fuzz-bass.

After the first two shorter songs comes the two epics of the album. "Amelia Earhart" is an almost 16 minute long tour de force of Canterbury music. It starts out with some kind of tuned percussion at low volume (think of the beginning to LTIA Pt. 1). Some random drums and other sounds can be heard before the music stops and then returns as great Canterbury jamming featuring great soloing on sax. Changes to another section featuring phased electric piano and start/stop playing. Then a great wah-bass solo. Later on some flute soloing. Afterwards some great fuzz-bass from a fuzz box that was malfunctioning I believe.

The sounds of people making noises at one point. I love the phased electric piano after 8 minutes. Goes through a few different sections; some very jazzy, some parts are reprised from earlier. After 11 minutes it gets spacey and minimalistic with a repeated bass note. Some flute later. This part continues until the end. The almost 23 minute "Adventures Of Captain Boomerang" opens in an orchestral Canterbury mood. When the drums come in it goes into Canterbury style jazz-rock. After 2 minutes you hear random sounds along with start/stop playing. At one point you hear people shouting "Captain Boomerang!" After 7 minutes is some great wah-bass.

As to be expected, this epic changes a lot. It gets almost bluesy in a Zappaesque way around 8 1/2 minutes. Around 11 minutes is some awesome phased bass which plays a melody. There seems to be an edit right after that part where a modified organ sounds like a synth. Later on some wind sounds and flute in the distance. More wind sounds and a great altered wind instrument later on. More synth like soloing and great rhythm section towards the end. This is some terrific Canterbury, although the next album (which I haven't heard) is supposed to be more avant-prog. Manna/Mirage is a unique sounding album that fans of Canterbury should hear. 4 stars.

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 Double Negative by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.60 | 16 ratings

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Double Negative
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This is one of the rare albums that THE MUFFINS have created that I have a hard time appreciating. Some of that is due to the length i'm sure as it clocks in at over 78 minutes. Now don't get me wrong there is so much that I enjoy about this album but at this length it's difficult to maintain a high level throughout. Lots of guests helping out too which doesn't help either in my opinion. Horns and strings are added by these guest musicians.

"The Highlands" opens with atmosphere that continues for some time. I'm not a fan of the sound when it changes after 3 1/2 minutes. Sax comes to the fore late. "Writing Blind" opens with piano before it kicks in. It settles with piano again before kicking in one more time.

"Choombachang" is horn led and is somewhat catchy. "The Ugly Buttling" is a funny title and this is the first song that I really like. Well the early part with the organ is the highlight.

"The Man In The Skin-Painted Suit" is a good song with that rhythm, horns and piano standing out. "Childhood's End" features blasting horns trading off with the piano. Flute leads before 5 1/2 minutes.

"Exquisite Corpse" sounds better 1 1/2 minutes in. Percussion and intricate sounds follow. Horns and bass lead 2 1/2 minutes in. Spoken foreign words come in then the music returns after 4 minutes. "They Come On Unknown Nights" has strings and a classical vibe. Drums as the tempo picks up before 2 minutes.

"Cat's Game" is a horn led piece for the most part. A calm after 2 1/2 minutes with keys. "Stethorus Punctum" picks up before a minute but the tempo will shift often.

"Dawning Star" has atmosphere and whistling. A beat after 2 minutes but it's still laid back. "5:00 Shadow" and the next three songs are excellent.This one has some good bass and horns. Horns are letting off some rips on "Metropolis". I like it.

"Angel From Lebanon" has some piano and flute standing out while "Frozen Charlotte" is good too. "Maya" opens with keyboards, bass and cymbals. Horns join in. A relaxed song really until the drums arrive. "The Two Georges" has pulsating organ with sax and drums. Nice bass before 4 minutes.

So a good album no doubt but this is way down on my list of favourite MUFFINS albums.

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