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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 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 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 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 previ...
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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)

4.18 | 88 ratings
Manna/Mirage
1978
3.79 | 26 ratings
185
1981
3.85 | 37 ratings
Chronometers
1993
3.90 | 16 ratings
Bandwidth
2002
3.63 | 18 ratings
Double Negative
2004
2.40 | 6 ratings
Loveletter #2 - The Ra Sessions
2005
3.94 | 19 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)

3.65 | 14 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
 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.18 | 88 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
4.18 | 88 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
3.85 | 37 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
3.65 | 14 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.

 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.85 | 37 ratings

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Chronometers
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Collaborator Heavy Prog Team

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
4.18 | 88 ratings

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Manna/Mirage
The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle
Collaborator Heavy Prog Team

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!

 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.

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.18 | 88 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.

 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.85 | 37 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.
 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.18 | 88 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!

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

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