The Muffins


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Recorded in September 1980 with Fred Frith in the producer's chair (he also contributes prepared piano, guitar, and violin) and released in 1981, this album sees the Muffins changing their approach. Instead of the long suites found on their previous LP, Manna/Mirage, this features short tracks that also move slightly away from the prog rock idiom (Happy the Man meets Samla Mammas Manna) and move closer into late-Henry Cow/Étron Fou Leloublan territory. A few studio improvisations add to that impression. Some pieces work great, pairing free-form soloing, contrapuntal arrangements, and quirky beats. The opener, "Angle Dance," and "These Castle Children" are such examples and their resonances can be traced back 20 years later in the music of Smokin' Granny, for instance. "Zoom Resume" and "Queenside" include vocal sections, rarely a good idea in the Muffins' music -- Billy Swann's voice is unnerving and mars what could have been highlights. Not as convincing as the previous effort, 185 remains a good album. For its CD reissue on Cuneiform, the group added remixes for seven of 11 original tracks. They mostly tune out Frith's embellishments and artistic vision to bring the pieces back to a live Muffins lineup -- a good idea in principle, except the compositions lose much of their audacity in the process. It is still interesting to hear how the group would have recorded it 15 years later, especially since it is not done to the detriment of the original LP, fully included.

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