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Published: 2002/07/23
by Matt Van Brink

Bandwidth – The Muffins

Cuneiform Records 161

The progressive band The Muffins disbanded in 1981, leaving behind a
corpus of albums so full of curios that single listenings can hardly even
skim the surface of their complexity and creativity. Their impressive
techniques (bizarre time signatures, group polyrhythms, a certain melodic
gift) were just one layer in the great depth of their music. The band
reunited last year, playing a handful of live shows, and recording
Bandwidth, an album of new material released this May. As in the
keyboardist and winds player Dave Newhouse wrote most of the compositions.
The rest of the band is the regular line-up of winds player Thomas Frasier
Scott, bassist and guitarist Billy Swann, drummer and guitarist Paul
Sears, and some guest players.

The Muffins utilize their unique sound palette on Bandwidth.
Twice-delayed flute and saxophone passages, distorted bass used
melodically, and Newhouse's colorful harmonic imagination all shine
throughout. "Walking the Duck" introduces the album, alternating pulsing
group unisons with saxophone and guitar solos. Scott's saxophone solos on
the album follow their own sort of logic, generally sailing over short
repeated chord progressions in odd but pulsing rhythms. Newhouse's
compositions are generally sectional, but always particular and
meticulous. The tunes are also very singable, despite the complex
underlying rhythms, which has always been an enchanting facet of the band.

After twenty years however, The Muffins do not pick up exactly where
they left off. Their delightfully overbearing sound of the past is here a
bit complacent and comfortable, at times even distractingly surface-level.
For either reasons of contemporary recording clarity or Newhouse's
compositional choices, the tracks here do not approach the sonic depth of
the first Muffins recordings. And, of course, the band believes they have
a few more albums' worth of material, so we can truly look forward to
hearing the Muffins as they re-mature reunited.

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