Essential Progressive Rock – Matching Mole

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The two albums “Matching Mole” and “Matching Mole’s Little Red Record” combine quirky, very British pop songs with largely instrumental, avant-garde and improvised music.
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The 40th anniversary of Matching Mole’s two studio albums, “Matching Mole” and “Matching Mole’s Little Red Record,” has been commemorated by a reissue of both albums, remastered and with several bonus tracks (edited single versions, alternate takes, the “Part of the Dance” jam). Arguably one of the most interesting bands grouped with the so-called Canterbury Scene, Matching Mole was formed by Robert Wyatt, after his departure from Soft Machine, with other luminaries of said scene. The band probably signals the way Wyatt would have taken his former band (the band name is derived from “Machine molle,” which is French for “Soft Machine”), if he could have had his way.

The two albums combine quirky, very British pop songs with largely instrumental, avant-garde and improvised music. The quirky pop songs bring them closer to sixties groups like Giles, Giles & Fripp, but the jazz rock-influenced pieces are one of the reasons why they were classified as part of the Canterbury scene. Another was the previous participation of the band’s members in various other groups associated with the scene. Robert Wyatt’s allies in Matching Mole were Bill MacCormick (Quiet Sun, 801) on bass guitar, Phil Miller (Delivery) on guitar and short-time member Dave Sinclair (Caravan) on keyboards, who was replaced by Dave McRae when he returned to Caravan.

Of course, you can hear immediately that the eponymous debut album was recorded in the ’70s – but that’s not a bad thing. Pieces like “Instant Pussy” and “Part of the Dance” are as captivating today as they were 40 years ago. It does have an unusual opener in the ballad “O Caroline,” perhaps the groups’ best-known song. There is a lot of free-form improvisation, especially on the sophomore album, delving deeper into terrain of which Soft Machine had only scraped the surface. The second album was produced by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and even features the synth tweedlings of Brian Eno on “Gloria Gloom.”

Wyatt’s humor is apparent in his self-reflexive lyrics, e.g. from “Signed Curtain”: “This is the first verse / And this is the chorus / Or perhaps it’s a bridge,” rendered in a cracking voice and lisp. Singing and structured pop songs increasingly took a back seat, however, as Matching Mole had their sight set on musical experimentalism (as later live albums like “Smoke Signals” and “March” showcased; recorded throughout 1972, these were wholly instrumental). Especially “Little Red Record” focuses on that side of the music, creating space for McRae’s brisk electric piano, MacCormick’s fluid bass parts, Wyatt’s bewitching drumming and Miller’s jazz-informed guitar. Formidable pieces such as “Marchides” and “Smoke Signal” make this band essential listening for anyone who is into British ’70s progressive rock. All in all, Matching Mole are more accessible than their contemporary Canterbury fellows Henry Cow, for example. Instead of outright dissonance they often produce the warm jazzy feel of Miles Davis’ contemporaneous albums, reaching moments of pure genius.
Published: Jun 25, 2012
by Klaas Ilse (artistxite)

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