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The Muffins - Chronometers CD (album) cover

CHRONOMETERS

The Muffins

 

Canterbury Scene

3.77 | 43 ratings

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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!

ALotOfBottle | 4/5 |

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