Formed in 1973 in their hometown in Washington D.C., The Muffins were this combination between the Canterbury scene and the Rock In Opposition movement. They were a cross between Gong, Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, Frank Zappa, and the Soft Machine. In 1978, they released their debut album entitled Manna/Mirage which Cuneiform Records reissued 25 years ago.
The band considers Billy Swan on Bass, Piano Guitar, and Percussions, Paul Sears on Drums, Gong, Xylophone, Vibes, Percussions, Pots, Pans, and Pennywhistle, Tom Scott on Wind Instruments and Percussion and Dave Newhouse on Keyboards, Wind Instruments, and Percussions. There are four tracks two of which are 15 and 22-minutes.
Opener, Monkey with the Golden Eyes features flute, electric piano, oboe combining with Wyatt-sque backgrounds done in the style of the Northettes arrangements with beautiful textures before the alarming and rising Organs with xylophones in the reminiscent of Egg’s Dave Stewart. Then it becomes a nightmarish Free-Jazz Avant-Garde 12-tone harmonies in the style of David Bedford and Frank Zappa as if they conducted together of wind improvisations between Scott, Newhouse, and Sears swirling chaotic drums as Hobart Got Burned.
Amelia Earhart is 15-minutes of an adventure dedicated to the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean then suddenly disappearing in the Devil’s Triangle. It begins with the world music in a chilling background for 1 minute and 34 seconds before the odd signatures of Rhodes, Fuzztone sounds, Drums, and Bass before the intense section of the Wah-Wah Bass, Flutes echoing Didier Malherbe before Billy Swan’s fuzz bass comes in.
Then the wackiness and thumping percussions and delving into the essence of Gong’s The Isle of Everywhere with the Herbie Hancock flavor with a spacey scenario. The last track clocks in at 22-minutes is The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (For Mike Forrester). The Muffins themselves go into overdrive to make the jump for intense light speed. They are in full control. And featuring Cuneiform founder Steve Feigenbaum on Guitar creating the underwater section and appearing on the Amelia track, the band themselves go through these different levels with a “Holy Shit!” momentum.
Blaring saxes and music changing gears, it’s almost as if they had done a score for either an episode The Ren & Stimpy Show or one of the Fleischer cartoons and almost giving Disney and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a big gigantic middle finger. And at times they can also do the music set to the paintings between Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock.
I love how that the band are in full control with free-rein with the sense of humor into their music and knowing that they are working together as a team to capture more of the Canterbury influences like a burst of thunder coming down at you in a quick second. They are in full control throughout the entire piece. Now, my introduction to the band’s music was in Romantic Warriors II and III. Not to mention Prog Rock Deep Cuts with Ian Beabout.
This is the real deal if you want to delve more into the musical boundaries of both the Rock In Opposition and Canterbury movement. If you love the genres then check into The Muffins Manna/Mirage.