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The Muffins - Open City CD (album) cover

OPEN CITY

The Muffins

 

Canterbury Scene

3.74 | 19 ratings

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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.

Sagichim | 4/5 |

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