Friday, May 25, 2018

Review of Martha and the Muffins' "Danseparc"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website.

Review Summary: "Everyday it's tomorrow and I never know what tomorrow will be/Everyday it's tomorrow and to dance with you is all I need."

Danseparc (1983) was the fourth studio album by Canadian new wavers Martha and the Muffins. Best known for their 1980 single "Echo Beach," (and to a lesser extent for their 1984 single "Black Stations/White Stations"), the band specialized in trippy dance beats, female and male vocals (with Martha Johnson handling approximately two-thirds of the lead vocal duties), and a staid and artsy rock sensibility that frequently added some discordant sax to jazz up the mix. One of the band's stronger efforts, Danseparc charted in both the U.S. and Canada. While the album is pretty decent as a whole, Danseparc is dominated by two particularly impressive numbers -- the title track, "Danseparc (Every Day It's Tomorrow)," (which charted as a single in the band's home country), and "Sins of Children."

"Danseparc" starts with a clean, distinct bassline, which is soon joined by some boisterous bursts of guitar. Johnson takes the lead vocal here, with Mark Gane adding a subdued second vocal line to the chorus. The thing that makes the song, though, is the guitar line on the chorus, which somehow manages to create an auditory representation of the formation of an electric spark each time Johnson croons, "Danseparc!" The song compares a loving relationship to a dance, as Johnson poses the question, "Will the way that we dance always be the same?" The song has a dreamlike, mystic quality to it, with a chorus that begins, "Every day it's tomorrow and I never know what tomorrow will be." As the guitar fades out, Johnson whispers something that begins, "This is a place I've visited ...", then drops so low that I've never been able to make out the last part of the line. No matter. With no disrespect intended towards "Echo Beach," this might be my favorite M + M song.

"Sins of Children" is the album's other classic track. (And you can tell the band knew it, because when they released the album in 2008, the three "bonus" tracks included a B-side, an extended dance version of "Danseparc" and a live version of "Sins of Children"). This is a song with a slow, deliberate pace and a gradual buildup, that features great use of hand percussion to supplement the guitar, piano and bass. The theme of the song is the way certain religions torment and frighten children, with concepts such as "original sin" and prayers about what happens "if I should die before I wake." Johnson's calm vocal adds to the poignancy of the song, as she intones lines such as "Down on bended knees/Words are whispered low/Confessing sins/they must invent." The song ends with a sweet closing synth line, that features four descending single notes, each held for a full measure, repeated several times in such a way as to form a wail of despair.

The rest of the LP has its moments, although nothing else reaches the heights of these two tracks. "Obedience" starts the album on an upbeat note, with a frenetically strummed guitar. "Several Styles of Blonde Girls Dancing" finds Gane singing lead, and features an interesting and leisurely guitar line at the end that sounds like an inversion of the music from a track of off the band's Mystery Walk album, "Come Out and Dance." And "Walking Into Walls" is energetic and fun, although the track is somewhat marred for me by the presence of various audio clips from old movies and/or television shows played over the sax in the middle of the song.

Martha and the Muffins were a delightful little niche band. They never received a ton of radio play, even at their height, and they never profited from a bunch of best-selling singles. They had their own unique sound, and you can tell they were in it largely for the love of the music. For anyone who ever enjoyed this quirky band from the great white north, Danseparc is an essential album.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm including this comment I entered in the comment section below the review:

"I didn't redo the whole history of the band here, and how they eventually morphed into M + M, (which was essentially just Martha Johnson + Mark Gane and whatever studio musicians they happened to need at any given time), or the fact that this album cover is the only one that ever referred to them as both M + M and Martha and the Muffins. 

"To their credit, Martha and Mark still make music together -- they dropped a new song last August called 'Summer of Song'. It's not the best single ever recorded, but it was good enough to at least give a Muffinhead like myself some moments of pleasure."