"We discovered The Muffins, and our lives were changed forever."
I'm still meaning to write on The Muffins at some point Thomas, I've not forgotton. You actually prompted me to put on their latest album ‘Bandwidth’ with your last post which I had previously dismissed (it was in fact put away beneath the coal scuttle in the cupboard) and whilst it is by no means as exciting as the seminal 'Manna/Mirage' or as playful as 'Chronometers' or even '<185>' which I still feel is a little patchy... it is by no means *bad*.
The ninth track on it, ‘Out of the Boat’ opens with much of the spirit of 'Chronometers'; that hammy B movie tone, with synth guitars, hellish moans. It’s camp, trashy, but intelligently so. So much is demanded of you when you listen to them, absurd contrarhythms compete for your attention, sounds not immediately identifiable as instruments (and sometimes not so) come at different directions from the speakers, as if this were a band messing about with stereo because it was fun.
You see, Thomas, writing about this kind of experimentation is somewhat difficult. I’m never really sure what’s going on with them. I couldn’t begin to say why the track ‘Monkey with the Golden Eyes’ holds me quite in the way it does. Why a tune largely composed of different instruments picking up the same phrase Rat-a-tat-tat should be in anyway magical. But it is.
And yet for all this difficulty there is something very immediate about these tracks, something fun, a bit silly. Though they are structured with such terse plotting, they are at their heart utterly frothy in their concerns. The album ‘Chronometers’ has repeated refrains from The Wizard of Oz or rather members of the band giving poor screeching impressions from the film. It’s the juxtaposition of the high-minded rhythms against the light-heartedness of a band pretending to be the Wicked Witch of the West. It reminds me of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, cheap gaudy horror paired with Hebrew scripture. It’s daft, but it’s not stupid, and that’s what makes it so cheering to listen to. In some ways it owes something to the music of Hermeto Pascoal, and his use of radio recordings in his music is perhaps hinted at in the ‘Chronometers’ track ‘Three days that won’t soon fade’, which takes the narrative of a radio spy drama above a rhythmic snare, the voices of the characters seemingly played out with muted trumpets and other unintelligible sounds; again it is the paring of the apparently ephemeral (the penny-dreadful radio drama) with the most spectacular rhythms beneath it that makes it work.
And listening to it now Thomas, I can actually see that ‘Bandwidth’ the latest album is doing much the same thing. They’ve been away a long time, their reference points have slightly altered, but track 10 ‘East of Diamond’, sounds immediately like the sax backing track to a mid nineties soft porn film. It’s schmaltzy, it’s not what you expect of The Muffins, and then about three minutes in the building raptures of the sax get too much, it fails, there is the sound of scraping metal, machinery perhaps. The sound of a distant Hammond organ. It’s all still there, and you can’t tell after a while whether this is indeed scraping metal or a clarinet being taken beyond the edge of despair. After a minute and a half of this, almost as if nothing happened, the saxaphone and piano resumes. It’s rather brilliant.
So, yes. I will write about The Muffins for you Thomas. I’m just not entirely sure how to.