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THE MUFFINS

Canterbury Scene • United States


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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


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)

4.16 | 97 ratings
Manna/Mirage
1978
3.78 | 30 ratings
185
1981
3.77 | 42 ratings
Chronometers
1993
3.88 | 17 ratings
Bandwidth
2002
3.61 | 19 ratings
Double Negative
2004
2.35 | 7 ratings
Loveletter #2 - The Ra Sessions
2005
3.88 | 21 ratings
Palindrome
2010
3.33 | 9 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)

3.72 | 17 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
 Open City by MUFFINS, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1985
3.72 | 17 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
3.77 | 42 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
3.78 | 30 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
4.16 | 97 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

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.

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.16 | 97 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Progfan97402
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Why did it take my until now to buy anything from the Muffins? It's a huge regret as I've been aware of these guys since 1996. I now have a copy of their debut LP Manna/Mirage and what an album it is! The groups consisted of Dave Newhouse, Paul Sears, Billy Swann, and Tom Scott, and they hailed from Silver Spring, Maryland, outside of Washington, DC. Comedian Lewis Black also hailed from Silver Spring, but of course he has nothing to do with prog rock (I don't know what kind of music he's into), he's a comedian who prefers the environs of New York City. Most importantly, Steve Feigenbaum hails from there, as he founded Random Radar Records, later on Wayside Music, and Random Radar's successor Cuneiform Records. Unsurprisingly The Muffins recorded for Random Radar, and that label pretty much served the same purpose as Cuneiform. So little surprise that Cuneiform would reissues their back catalog and previously unreleased archival material in the 1990s, as well as new reunion releases.

I have most of the major UK Canterbury releases, but I am totally blown away one of the best examples of the Canterbury style should be the Muffins given their non-UK origins, and the fact American bands playing prog rock of any style are frequently accused of being nothing more than pale copycats. Dave Newhouse and the boys certainly did their homework and actually created a masterpiece sure the rival even the UK classics. Since they knew they would only by fooling themselves by imitating British accents (Robert Wyatt and Richard Sinclair never hid their British accent while singing), they stuck to being an all-instrumental band, with the exception of one squeely vocal part that goes "Captain Boomerang" (a DC Comics villain) on "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (for Mike Forrester)" (who's this Mike Forrester? Michael Forrester the British WWII- era Naval officer? Not sure). "Monkey With the Golden Eyes" has a bit of that laid-back Hatfield & the North feel to it, and then "Hobart Got Burned" is the next piece. Here you get treated with lots of squeaky saxes, sounding like the band gone totally RIO on us, reminding me of the more "out there" sections of Henry Cow's Leg-End. Then out of nowhere comes this wonderful electric piano riff with some great spacy sax solos over it. "Amelia Eahart" continues in that Hatfield & the North and Soft Machine vein, but out of nowhere the band suddenly goes into Gong territory complete with glissando guitar, after a bit then this really eerie, droning organ goes on for the next couple of minutes before it fades out. Finally you get the side- length "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (for Mike Forrester). They really go to town on this piece, going through many different changes and moods, but towards the end they slow down, like they finally ran out of energy, but suddenly it ends with a bang with some great Canterbury-type organ soloing.

Also it needs to be pointed out what an amazing drummer Paul Sears is! He certainly is one of the great, unrecognized drummers out there. I am not a musician so I can't always judge the talents of band members (other than that of KISS who stick to cliched rock guitar, drums and lyrics), but Sears really does some amazing and complex drumming and make it seem so effortless! He doesn't get the recognition of say, Bruford, or Pierre Moerlen, or Pip Pyle, but his playing is certainly up there with the best!

Listening to this album, you'd swear that 1978 was the height of progressive rock, when in fact it's been a pretty disappointing year, at least for the major acts (Love Beach being the most obvious example). This was, after all, the US being caught up in disco (Saturday Night Fever helped disco receive even more mainstream acceptance) and the UK caught up in punk (both which would implode by 1980). Clear that Newhouse & the boys were totally oblivious about the less-than-favorable musical landscape of 1978, and stuck to their guns and recorded and released a masterpiece. Helps that they had a local label to release this. Truly an album that is completely essential to your collection. While Prog Archives discourages five star ratings so you can be encouraged to be more objective, this album truly deserves it!

 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.77 | 42 ratings

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Chronometers
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

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.

 Open City by MUFFINS, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1985
3.72 | 17 ratings

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Open City
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

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.

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.16 | 97 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars America's only entry into the Canterbury style of music issued their debut in 1978 as the real Canterbury movement was fizzling out and/or filtering into other realms (jazz, new age, avant, eclectic, etc.). Still, they contributed a well-acclaimed gem in the true Canterbury style. Though I'm familiar with this album after repeated listenings to recognize each song and smile, I do not seem to be able to recall the Muffins sound when I am away from their music--when I am just trying to conjure up the "essence" of the band and their sound. All nice music, eminently listenable--and enjoyable--just, for some reason, not memorable. This is why this album isn't higher in my personal favorites. I remember that "Hobart Got Burned" (5:56) is an example of the band venturing off into the more challenging and dissonant realms of free jazz--though it does come together in a somewhat cohesive flow for the second half. (8/10)

Favorite songs: 4. "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" (22:48) (38/45); 1. "Monkey with Golden Eyes" (4:02) (9/10), and; 3. "Amelia Earhart" (15:45) (25.5/30).

Four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. I am sure that this album would be an eminently more enjoyable listening experience for fans coming from (or for) a true jazz background, as there is a lot of that. The performances are all exquisite: high in technical skill as well tightly orchestrated.

 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.77 | 42 ratings

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Chronometers
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

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!

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.16 | 97 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

5 stars The Muffins were formed in 1973, in Washington D. C., soon after a keyboardist and saxophonist Dave Newhouse, a guitarist Michael Zentner, and a bassist Billy Swann found a common unorthodox and anti-commercial approach to music. The group, however, remained nameless until a few months later when they named themselves The Muffins, allegedly after one friend of theirs shouted, "The muffins are here!" while bringing them blueberry muffins and more importantly giving an idea for the name of the band. One year after their formation, they were joined by Thomas Scott, a saxophonist with a big-band background. In 1975, Stuart Abramowitz on drums joined, only to leave one year later with Michael Zentner. While playing a concert in 1976, they stumbled upon a drummer Paul Sears, who stayed in the band. The Muffins founded their own independent recording label, Random Radar Records, under which they released their debut album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978.

With influences of acts such as Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, National Health, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, and even Caravan, The Muffins have shaped their own, distinctive Canterbury scene-inspired style. Although the United States has always been far from being the heartland of the subgenre and recognized it relatively late, the group's music sounds incredibly natural and authentic. Characterized by strong emphasis put on improvisation, The Muffins go far beyond being just another Canterbury-tinged jam band. The extensive use of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, recorders, and oboes, rather than brass winds, gives the band a varied, unique, almost chamber-like sound, at times reminiscent of Henry Cow's Legend. Keyboard instruments also play a prominent role with smooth, dreamy Fender Rhodes electric piano, reminiscent of Dave Stewart and Tim Hodgkinson-inspired Farfisa organ. Free jazz passages, very much in the vein of Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, are also common, enriching the album with even more of a diverse, varied style. In short: Manna/Mirage is a perfectly balanced mélange between classy avant-garde progressive rock and jazz-influenced Canterbury sound.

The album opens with "Monkey with the Golden Eyes". A calm repeating passage on electric piano is supported by a great interplay of flute and clarinet. Gradually, more instruments are added - xylophone, drums, organ, resulting in an almost ambient texture. In the beginning, "Hobart Got Burned" features just a little part of the previous track until it loses itself in chaotic, quirky, free-form mayhem. At one point, all of the instruments participating in the madness meet and, as if finally entering the same alley, present a theme which would not be out of place on an album by Hatfield and the North. Side One closes with the 15-minute "Amelia Earhart". The piece starts out with mystic, meditative sounds of a wide plethora of percussion instruments, which dissolve into a merry Caravan-like melody. Later, the listener encounters a brief free passage and various different segments of the piece, perfectly displaying the flawless work of every instrument in different musical circumstances. Side Two is fully occupied by a nearly 23-minute suite "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang". The track begins with an interaction of woodwind instruments supplemented by accompaniment on Fender Rhodes. Then, a more energetic, louder motif dominated by saxophones kicks in. What follows is really inexplicable. Let me just say that the piece is dripping with complex arrangements, contrasted segments, dynamically, rhythmically, and instrumentally varied parts, numerous different themes, lengthy improvisational passages, and proficient instrumental work. The Muffins seem to have a well-thought plan for every second of the suite and make use of their recording time perfectly.

Manna/Mirage is an absolutely exceptional record in the history of the Canterbury scene. While in 1978, its sound might have radically drifted towards jazz fusion, this one American band, that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, skillfully carries on traditions set by bands such as Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Hatfield and the North. The release is incredibly consistent, mature, and most of all deeply fascinating. A true gem of the Canterbury scene. Highly recommended!

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

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