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The Muffins - 2011 - "Palindrome"

(47:32, Musea Records)



1.  The Angels' Share 3:28
2.  Not Yet Awake 9:14
3.  Fishing in America 2:32
4.  Dynamite Is Not the Solution 5:33
5.  When Fela Comes to Town 3:23
6.  King Fish 4:49
7.  Bats and Birds 11:14
8.  Yukapoe's Lament 7:15


Dave Newhouse – saxes, woodwinds; kalimba; vocals
Tom Scott – saxes, woodwinds; keyboards; vocals
Billy Swann – basses 
Paul Sears – drums
Brian Sullivan – guitars
Elaine Di Falco – vocals 
Doug Elliott – trombone
Keith Cotrill – tuba

Prolusion. Issued earlier this year, “Palindrome” is the brand new effort by America’s THE MUFFINS. A cult band, if not a legendary one, it has existed since the mid-’70 and has several albums to its credit.

Analysis. I read a lot of articles of The Muffins, all being enthusiastic, but haven’t heard either of the ensemble’s previous efforts, all of which, unlike this one (a Musea Records outing), were released by the Cuneiform label – either directly or as CD reissues. I don’t know whether the matter is linked with any changes in its latest work, but anyhow, this “Palindrome” appears as one of the weakest chamber tock-related albums (okay, of those – really numerous – that I’m familiar with). That’s not to say it is really bad, not at all; it’s just too basic and predictable to fully meet the requirements of the genre, at least as I see it. Although by far not the first act to perform it, The Muffins sound like some very old proto-RIO band. On six of the eight tracks presented, The Angels' Share, Yukapoe's Lament, Fishing in America, King Fish, Dynamite Is Not the Solution and Not Yet Awake, this ensemble-septet much more frequently blends brass rock and minimalist music devices (think plenty of unison leads and an almost endless thematic repetition, respectively) than plays a real, or, rather, more or less full-fledged RIO. Most of the music has a dissonant quality to it only because the rhythm section constantly uses odd time intervals, though on the other hand, its commanders seem to be unaware of any other paces apart from a slow one, sticking to that throughout the album. The first four of the compositions are all-instrumental, while the latter two, Not Yet Awake and Dynamite Is Not the Solution, each contain some vocalizes and vocals, respectively. Provided by a guest female singer, those are fairly pleasing as they are, but, being for the most part laid-back, they are hardly of help in terms of diversifying the music, since, as mentioned already, it is also slow-paced. The remaining two tracks, When Fela Comes to Town and Bats and Birds, are the album’s most and least interesting composition respectively. The first of these (the longest track here, exceeding 11 minutes in length) blends features that are most common with all of the previously described pieces with elements of symphonic Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion, even revealing some genuine chamber rock arrangements at times. As to the latter tune, semi-spoken, semi-sung by two men, it is nothing more than a ballad with a bleak and lonely instrumental landscape. BTW, judging by the titles of such tracks as Fishing in America, King Fish and Dynamite Is Not the Solution, the musicians are enthusiastic fishers, and surely anglers using rods exclusively. Take also note of the album’s title, “Palindrome”. It seems to suggest that nothing will change in the thing’s sound, regardless of whether you listen to it as usual, i.e. beginning with its first track, or in a reverse order, which is indeed true, in a way.

Conclusion. Whether I call this music minimalist RIO or quasi-Chamber Rock, it sounds too primitive to my ears to recommend it to the connoisseurs of the genre, albeit for those, who make the very first steps in comprehending it, the album might be useful, at least. Of course, if “Palindrome” had been released sometime in the ‘60s, I’d have a different opinion on it, maybe a totally different one.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: December 1, 2011
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Musea Records
The Muffins


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