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THE MUFFINS

Canterbury Scene • United States


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The Muffins picture
The Muffins biography
Formed in 1973 in Washington DC, USA - Disbanded in 1981 - Reformed in 1998 and broke up in 2016

The MUFFINS are Canterbury influenced quartet founded by Dave NEWHOUSE (keyboards, reeds), Billy SWAN (bass) and Michael ZENTNER (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 here!" 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 ...
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THE MUFFINS discography


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

4.14 | 116 ratings
Manna/Mirage
1978
3.79 | 41 ratings
185
1981
3.79 | 49 ratings
Chronometers
1993
3.85 | 21 ratings
Bandwidth
2002
3.55 | 23 ratings
Double Negative
2004
3.11 | 9 ratings
Loveletter #2 - The Ra Sessions
2005
3.90 | 24 ratings
Palindrome
2010
3.74 | 12 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)

3.73 | 20 ratings
Open City
1985
5.00 | 2 ratings
Baker's Dozen
2022

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

1.42 | 7 ratings
Air - Fiction
1979
5.00 | 1 ratings
Secret Signals 2
1992
2.60 | 6 ratings
Loveletter #1
2001

THE MUFFINS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Secret Signals 2 by MUFFINS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1992
5.00 | 1 ratings

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Secret Signals 2
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

— First review of this album —
5 stars Between 1989 and 1996 three cassettes were released of live recordings from between 1974 and 1981, with the second of these then being reissued on CD in 2018 as a limited edition, with the other two currently still unavailable. Actually, I can't find this for sale anywhere either, so it is possible this is no longer available either so if you spot any of them then grab them! This particular CD features track from 1974 to 1975, which means we get the original core line- up of Dave Newhouse (keyboards, woodwind, trumpet), Billy Swann (electric bass), Tom Scott (woodwind, bell tree, yelling) and Michael Zentner (guitars, violin, piano) along with drummer Michael Bass and Scott Rafael who plays on four tracks with alto sax and violin. Their debut album would not be released until 1978, by which time only Dave, Billy and Tom would remain, so this is a great opportunity to hear what the band sounded like in the early days.

I think a good word would be "anarchic", and do not think any of these songs were later recorded in the studio, at least not under these names with these arrangements. Here we had great musicians working under the basis that they had no-one to please but themselves and that they could do whatever they wanted. With multi-instrumentalists in tow they could change instruments between songs to give them a different approach, or even change them during, meaning the audience (and other band members) did not know what was coming next, providing an excitement and vitality to the performance. My album of 2023 was the incredible 'The Baker's Dozen' boxed set of rare live recordings, and I don't think any of these appear on there, so perhaps those nice people at Cuneiform might consider releasing the three tapes as a new set? Please? Here we have a band pushing the limits, not even seeing the boundaries as they take Canterbury to new heights. Superb.

 Mother Tongue by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.74 | 12 ratings

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Mother Tongue
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

4 stars What we have here is the final studio album by The Muffins, released in 2012 by Dave Newhouse (keyboards, baritone & tenor saxes, bass clarinet, accordion), Tom Scott (flute, soprano & alto saxophones, clarinet, alto clarinet, oboe, bassoon, keyboards, trumpet, vocals), Billy Swan (fretless bass, acoustic bass, acoustic & e-bow guitars) and Paul Sears (drums). The original live rhythm tracks were recorded in 2008, long before the release of the previous album, 'Palindrome', and we have on here just one fully live recording, 'Going Softly', which was recorded at ProgDay in 2010. No guests on this one, just the four Muffins demonstrating their musical prowess as they develop an album which is incredibly thoughtful and multi-layered.

I have not heard all of their studio albums (something I do need to fix), but this album is far more laid-back and constructed than what I have come to expect from their live works. Given that three of the quartet are multi- instrumentalists, two of them ridiculously so, I guess it is no surprise that when time is not an object that the music becomes more reflective and thoughtful, although it is somewhat surprising to realise just how different they can be to the highly improvisational quartet who first came together more than 30 years prior to this recording taking place. I do not know when they decided to call it a day, whether they knew this was going to be their final album or if that decision was made later but coming to this a dozen years after its release one can almost hear the goodbyes as the band wind down with just a few songs, such as "Beat 10" showing a more up tempo and exciting feel to proceedings.

Strangely, even though this is arguably the most commercial album of theirs I have heard, this is one which took me quite a while to get into, but now I have I can honestly say it is one I have enjoyed a great deal. Yet another classic Canterbury infused jazz prog album worth discovering.

 Loveletter #2 - The Ra Sessions by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.11 | 9 ratings

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Loveletter #2 - The Ra Sessions
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

4 stars In 2004 The Muffins released 'Double Negative' with the line-up of Dave Newhouse (organ, grand piano, soprano, baritone & tenor saxes, bass clarinet, percussion), Tom Scott (flute, soprano & alto saxophones, clarinet, percussion), Billy Swan (bass, guitar, percussion) and Paul Sears (drums, guitar, trombone, percussion). They had some guest musicians involved on some of the tracks, including Knoel Scott (alto saxophone) and Marshall Allen (alto saxophone) and perhaps unsurprisingly, this led to a series of improvisations between the six, which were recorded and released in 2005 as a companion album to the original. Marshall Allen is of course famous for leading the reed section in The Sun Ra Arkestra from the time he joined in 1958 for more than 40 years, and is now leader of the Arkestra and is still playing (in his 90's!) while Knoell is a mere whippersnapper having been born in 1956 and joining the Arkestra in 1979.

The Muffins are a band built on improvisation and bouncing ideas off each other, while at the time of this recording Scott and Allen had been in the same band for 25 years, and it is an absolute delight to hear the interplay between the six of them. The only thing which would make this better would have been if there had been a camera in the studio capturing what was going on, as I can imagine the guys going between smiles and intense concentration as they try to work out where the muse is taking them and what their contribution needs to be to further that. At times there are four saxophones at play, while the rhythm section swaps and changes as they look to further their Canterbury avant garde approach to progressive music.

This will not be to everyone's taste, as it is moving The Muffins in an even more avant-garde direction, yet to my battered ears this is a delight, and I can sit and listen to this all day. Experimental music driven by horns is rarely better than this.

 185 by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.79 | 41 ratings

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185
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

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.

 Baker's Dozen by MUFFINS, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2022
5.00 | 2 ratings

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Baker's Dozen
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

5 stars There is no doubt in my mind that one of the most fascinating and important record labels in the world is Cuneiform, and when they stopped operating some years back, I was devastated. They had just released one of the most essential boxed sets I have ever had the joy of owning, Art Zoyd's '44 ', which is something I still return regularly to even now. But they couldn't stay away for too long and over the last few years Cuneiform have again been exciting and enthralling us with challenging music from wonderful bands. At the same time I have been listening to a great deal of music from Jerry King, who introduced me to his friend and bandmate Dave Newhouse, and I have been thoroughly enjoying their collaborations. I knew Dave is famous for being in The Muffins, but for some strange reason I had never investigated their music.

That has all changed in a very big way indeed with this release from Cuneiform which brings together 12 CDs and a DVD in one place (and the version I have actually includes a copy of their 2010 album, 'Palindrome', as well). This means my set has 147 songs with a total playing time of nearly 15 hours, nearly all previously unreleased live and studio recordings from 1975 ? 2010. They were a Washington, D.C. area band who existed from 1973-81 and then again with their best-known line-up still intact from 1993-2015. They were called, "...the finest progressive band that America produced... even at its most complicated, (they) sounded effortless & convincing" by Fred Frith. They also acted as Fred's backing band on his first post-Henry Cow solo album, 'Gravity'. This is Canterbury scene progressive rock being thrown into the avant garde with scarce a thought for the likes of Soft Machine as they shift the genre in new directions. With multi-instrumentalists within the quartet (which was their normal line-up, although this did vary a few times), they could keep changing the format so we may have a rhythm section playing against/with two woodwind players, or keyboards could have a major part or possibly guitar. Everyone was able to take a lead role, and it was not unusual for each of them to do so, often all at the same time.

The constants through the career were Dave Newhouse (electric piano, organ, keyboards, piano, woodwinds, penny whistle, harmonica, tenor recorder, percussion, toy instruments, toy xylophone, tambourine, horn, voice) and Billy Swann (electric bass, fretless bass, guitar, electric piano, organ, piano, penny whistle, drums, keyboards, plastic tube, tenor saxophone, alto recorder, whistle, percussion, radio, vocals, voice), while Tom Scott (saxophone, clarinet, flute, oboe, kalimba, melodica, soprano recorder, penny whistle, maracas, whistling, xylophone, bell tree, percussion, keyboards, programming, voice) joined the following year while for a large part of their career they were completed by Paul Sears (drums, percussion, xylophone, steel drum, gong, soprano saxophone, voice vocals), and it was this line-up which worked together from 1976 before breaking up in 1981 only to reform some dozen years later.

I have always been a big believer in playing full albums before writing reviews, although I have heard stories (surely apocryphal) of some writers only playing either bits of all tracks or just some tracks, and part of me viewed the first playthrough of this set with some horror, did I mention how long this is? However, right from the off I was entranced by what was taking place in front of my ears and knew this was going to be something very special indeed, as proved to be the case. Here are four confident musicians extended a genre and bending it to their will, refusing to follow in the footsteps of others but instead created a wide path in the wilderness. One never knows where the music will lead, as they continually challenged each other, daring to find the right ledge to jump from, but would they make it safely to the next vantage point or would they fall to their doom with notes emanating from their instruments as they crashed to the rocks with the musical thread lost forever.

This is one of those pointless reviews, as the physical version of this set (and why would you just want the digital?) is $195 USD, and you will only invest that much if you are already a fan. But take it from me, even to the newcomer, this is a superb way to discover the band and somehow, I know I am going to be listening to this for many years to come.

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.14 | 116 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Beautiful Scarlet

3 stars I've waited some time to review this album, odd.

Monkey With Golden Eyes is a pretty opener to the album, nice e piano soft bass and gentle wood wind. Halfway through the song adds marimba trills and while repetitive the song slowly gets louder due to the addition of various instruments saxophone, violin etc. Effective opener.

Hobart Got Burned opens with the ending of Monkey With Golden Eyes but quickly becomes saxophone squonking. For me this is a risky sound to use as it can destroy what was built up or lead me to disappointment with what follows. Sadly, this track does not work for me. Fortunately the song does build into something more musical but the quality of it is not high enough to justify the earlier sounds. I don't like that the only difference is pretty much a thumping bass drone, the energy level is unchanged, the saxophone still squeaking about. To really rub salt in the wound one is granted seconds of organ, only for it to be taken away. Hobart Got Burned ultimately does not build up into something very good, just some bass gets added when I would have wanted keyboard shredding and thunderous percussion alongside popping bass.

Amelia Earhart opens slowly, with sparse percussion slowly moving towards something. Boom, drums bass and keyboard bring the volume up, lovely entrance. Saxophone joins in to, I believe there are two harmonizing? The song then gets a bit quieter and goes through some fast changes, nice. Screechy violin over bubbling bass and speedy cymbal hits then all of a sudden it goes quiet then it changes again with great attention to mixing a variety of moods, calm sections of flute, to loud crunchy lead lines to literal screams to instruments nobody uses, pennywhistle!? After going through some fast changes for quiet some time (very clean transitions btw) an ambient section begins and takes the song to its unsatisfactory fade out ending. This song is pleasant to listen to but I find it suffers hard from a lack of identity for me and that ending really hurts.

The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang opens quietly with flute and e piano forging a beautiful pastoral soundscape. Then the flowers are torn asunder as Saxophone takes over and drums shatter the ground while Bass burns shrubbery. From here one enters a world of fast changes like the previous track. It's mostly pretty good, engaging music but I'm left a bit heartbroken by the constant interruptions of high energy sections with moments of nothing. I wish the sections were chained together better, too broken, too many holes preventing the song from reaching the highest levels of ecstasy. I also wish it was paced better, the song just stays kind of constant for the first fifteen minutes, despite constantly changing the overall energy level is actually static and pretty low. Also at around fifteen minutes for a couple minutes there is more ambient filler [&*!#] like the previous song then saxophone over slow bass and drums, so still low energy. Honestly this "climax" could have been so much better if the rhythmic support was better, aka if it's was faster then turtle pace. Anyways as per usual this section ends for some seconds of silence then tinkling piano then it builds up again to some nice full band work then again drops the ball then just ends, beep. Slow section -> fast section x 10 -> ambient filler to make the songs real beefy then fast section -> slow section until tape runs out = Track 4

Overall this is a pretty solid debut that could use better organization of sections in my opinion.

 Open City by MUFFINS, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1985
3.73 | 20 ratings

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Open City
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Sagichim
Special Collaborator 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.

 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.79 | 49 ratings

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Chronometers
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

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.

 185 by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.79 | 41 ratings

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185
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Sagichim
Special Collaborator 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.

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.14 | 116 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

5 stars The USA didn't pump out the legions of classic progressive rock acts even close to the same level as the nations all around Europe but there were a few exceptions of course. Frank Zappa along with the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart hitting the scene before the prog scene fully hit and whose influences were stealthily intertwined with all the 70s greats, are timeless legends. As the prog scene hit however, the US was noticeably absent in its formidable output in the classic years. While a few bands like Kansas, Utopia and Zappa himself would reach worldwide recognition, most of the American prog bands were relegated to the obscurity bins only to be rediscovered decades later. Good examples are The Residents, Yezda Urfa, Mirthrandir and Happy The Man. Another band that emerged in during the heyday of 1973 was the Washington DC based THE MUFFINS who joined the ranks of other non- English bands such as Cos, Moving Gelatine Plates and Supersister in incorporating the Canterbury prog sound into their musical compositional style.

While many albums have been released by THE MUFFINS over the ensuing decades, only this debut MANNA / MIRAGE was released while they were an active band with the rest finding themselves released as archival artifacts. THE MUFFINS (despite the stupid band name) were one of the few resolute acts that bucked the trend of more accessible music and delved into the lengthy complexities of the most developed prog years. By adopting the compositional structures and timbres of Caravan, Soft Machine and Hatfield & The North's Canterbury sound and mixing it with avant-garde freeform jazz and progressive rock fusion with nods to the Rock In Opposition avant-prog style of Henry Cow, THE MUFFINS crafted out their own unique style of extended instrumental prog workouts that belies the time they existed. If only they had emerged and released their intricate composiitons a mere five years earlier, perhaps they would've been considered in the same league as the greats. But American prog had all but disappeared by the late 70s and THE MUFFINS would require decades to be rediscovered.

Also adopting the whimsical playful demeanor of their Canterbury idols, when the band were living in a farmhouse near Gaithersburg, Maryland, they gleefully adopted their missing band name after a friend brought over a tray of blueberry muffins. After announcing that "The muffins are here!" the band took that as an introduction and adopted the new name on the spot. The music is no less playful in full Canterbury form as it took the expected journey into highly complex musical nosedives but allowed sensible breaths of air through the humorous outbursts that would occur throughout the music. While the band was founded by only three members: Dave Newhouse (piano, organ, piccolo flute, alto & baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, whistle, percussion), Billy Swann (bass, piano, guitar, percussion) and guitarist Michael Zentner, it took a few years and a few lineup changes with Zentner ultimately quitting and the lineup adding Tom Scott (piccolo, E-flat, alto & C-flutes, soprano, alto & baritone saxophones, B-flat & alto clarinets, oboe, soprano recorder, percussion) and Paul Sears (drums, gong, xylophone, vibes, percussion, "pots & pans", pennywhistle). On top of that this debut album included five session musicians.

MANNA / MIRAGE contains only four songs. The first two "Monkey With The Golden Eyes" and "Hobart Got Burned" designed to be shorter and a musical invitation to the greater challenges that they build up to. The opener is a delicate mix of brass, flute and piano that slowly ratchets up the complexities that continue through. The majority of musical real estate is dedicated to the near sixteen minute "Amelia Earhart" and side-long (on original vinyl LP) "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang that neared the 23 minute mark, both of which displayed a fully functioning prog band in full pomp and awe. The two tracks together go through a multitude of Zappa inspired motifs mixed with freeform jazz, Krautrock spaced out ambience and full Canterbury glory. The plethora of instrumental action on board is fueled by a fuzz guitar, jazzed out percussion section and brass bravado with elegant atmospheric appearances of electronica.

Although it would take decades for recognition, THE MUFFINS have become regarded as one of the USA's most accomplished progressive rock bands, far exceeding the popular musical ambitions of bands like Kansas and far beyond anything Zappa would crank out after his jazz-fusion glory days with The Mothers. More on par with the complexities of Happy The Man, this American band released their best album at the beginning but has left a smattering of archival albums over the years to experience. The band seems to have finally gained recognition in the 21st century by reforming and playing at various jazz and Rock In Opposition festivals throughout the years but finally called it quits once again in 2016. As far as Canterbury Scene albums from the 70s are concerned, MANNA / MIRAGE is one for the mandatory listening list. Although a bit more abstract than the greats like National Heath and others of the classic era, nevertheless displays one of the most accomplished examples of a non-English band mastering the intricacies of the style and one of the most brilliant examples of American prog period.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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