Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Recalibration Of “Fun”: Delicate by Martha and the Muffins

“The fun is over.”

A more compassionately adroit reader might have phrased the matter differently, or perhaps begun the Tarot session with the question of concern. As it stands, “The fun is over” is a blunt assessment of expectations, or to my mind an improvement on the old addiction canard: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

There are varieties of fun a person learns to surrender as they mature. Most of us got thrills putting our fingers near daddy’s face, so he could pretend to bite them. And for most of us, that fun was over by the time we turned five. So it goes. Life requires a continual recalibration of expectations and experience.


Leonard Nevarez is a huge Martha and the Muffins fan, and does some snappy deconstructing of their oeuvre (among other matters) over here. It sounds like the folks at 33 1/3 turned down his proposal for a booklet devoted to either This Is The Ice Age or Danseparc, I’m not sure which. It also sounds like the University of Toronto Press has agreed to a larger MatM-based project. A loss to the hipster press is an academic gain I look forward to reading. Excelsior, dude.

Anyway, I am deeply indebted to Nevarez for framing MatM’s aesthetic as a sort of cartography of longing (my words, not his), because it’s helped me identify what makes Delicate so appealing to my ears. Nevarez seems a tad non-plussed that this latest album appears to no longer chart out their earlier social-displacement within the Global Village — a more intimate location-by-location exploration of the sort of thing David Byrne & Co. gave the Reader’s Digest treatment, in “Cities.”

MatM’s focus may have shifted somewhat, but I think it’s a good thing. Real Life Massive Wallops tend to hone one’s focus on the intimate and immediate — the journey nevertheless continues, albeit on a vastly re-calibrated scale. Take a seemingly throw-away song like “Crosswalk,” an extended stream-of-consciousness riff appended to the chorus-chant, “All she wants to do is cross the street.” The collected words and images are surreal and harrowing — the soundtrack, perhaps, of a midlife mind in its ape’s journey as parental eyes watch a child negotiating with street traffic. Somehow the journey from here to there, across the street, concludes with life in balance.

Delicate touches on other adult concerns, from mortality to chafing against social/religious edict, the age-alteration of desire and expectation. The sound may not have quite the youthful stride of earlier MatM albums, but remains unmistakably Muffin-esque.

After 25 years of no Muffins on the eardrums, the overall effect of listening to Delicate was akin to enjoying a deep conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. She hadn’t changed a bit — except in all the necessary ways.

Heaps of fun material (including the above photo) awaits you here, at the official Martha and the Muffins site.

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