Greg Northrup    21-August-2002 Matching Mole - s/t

Matching Mole's first album is an eccentric mixture of Wyatt's disarming vocal talents and esoteric jazz-rock jamming that occasionally drifts into overly experimental territories. There is great drumming from Wyatt throughout, along with angular rhythms, disjointed harmonies and dissonant textures. Early tracks like the ballad "O Caroline" and the great "Signed Curtain" showcase Wyatt's distinct vocal style to great effect, while the next three tracks illustrate that left-field sense of jazzy prog that I dig so much about the band. "Part of the Dance," the lone Phil Miller contribution, is a powerful fusiony rocker that foreshadows their subsequent classic, Little Red Record. "Instant Kitten" is another great jazzy tune, and showcases a distinct melodic sense that they would forsake elsewhere. Very nice, with some blazing fuzzed out Sinclair solos. "Dedicated to Hugh..." features some towering soloing from Phil Miller. The album unfortunately runs out of gas on the last two tracks, muddling around in strange sound effects and boring improvisations that seem to lack any kind of drive. This is where things are kind of lost for me, and I tend to prefer their next album, which was more of a band effort.

Greg Northrup    21-August-2002 Little Red Record

Matching Mole's second album is, to me, their definitive hour. Here, the rest of the band has more of an input, as opposed to being more part of a Wyatt project, with Wyatt only contributing the lyrics and drums to this release. This functions as somewhat of a tradeoff for most listeners. On one hand, Little Red Record lacks the charming Wyatt-penned ditties like "O Caroline" and "Signed Curtain," but we do get to enjoy a full and focused album of biting jazz fusion more akin to the middle portions of the first album. The album takes what I feel were Matching Mole's real strengths and builds on them, with great contributions from Phil Miller and new full-time keyboardist Dave McRae. "Marchides" rocks out with some thundering drums and fuzzed out bass lines providing a basis for Miller's sizzling guitar attack. The band's disjointed take on jazz rock and Canterbury works supremely for me throughout the next three tracks. Great playing from all parties, along with an angular sense of daring and dissonance and snatches of surreal melodies. This is all coupled with wry English humor, tongue-in-cheek socialist propaganda, and a female voice whispering amusing sexual innuendos blending together in what seems like one extended jam. "Gloria Gloom" breaks down into a more ambient feel, with snippets of conversation going on over more of Wyatt's subtle and humorous lyrics ("How can I pretend that music is more relevant than fighting for a socialist world?"). "God Song" is a brilliant piece of trademark Wyatt lyricism, a sarcastically clever shot at religion. The album closes out with the melodic "Flora Fidgit," with a melodic guitar riff and shimmering electric piano, and the atmospheric "Smoke Signal."

The album was produced by Robert Fripp and features Brian Eno guesting on synthesizer for "Gloria Gloom," though neither's involvement in the project is eminently noticeable. Overall, this is a sublime piece of exceedingly unique Canterbury, blending a number of influences and balancing the Wyatt factor with more of a Hatfield & the North vibe. The little bits of socialist commentary are, of course, only half joking (Robert Wyatt was in fact a dedicated Communist) and add a unique charm, not to mention the fact that Little Red Record possesses one of the most subtle, amusing album covers in progressive rock. This is a definite personal favorite, but not for everyone. Neither of Matching Mole's albums are particularly good places to start exploring Canterbury, and one would probably have to be well versed with bands like National Health, Caravan and the Hatfield albums to really be able to get into this, but if you're feeling adventurous, Little Red Record is a must.

Jeff Melton    16-August-2002 Smoke Signals

Matching Mole - Smoke Signals
(Cuneiform, Rune 150, 2001, CD)

Cuneiform continues its legacy of marvelous detective work of locating live Canterbury band tapes with a unique performance by Robert Wyatt's Soft Machine knock-off group, Matching Mole. As Aymeric Leroy goes into great detail to explain, the group gradually evolved into a blowing, improvisational group, at one time including two Daves: Sinclair (ex-Caravan) and McRae (later in Ian Carr's Nucleus). But that line-up didn't last long, as it reverted to a quartet configuration (with McRae) that is spotlighted in these tracks. Phil Miller's role on these ten cuts is a crafted balancing act between soloist, counter-soloist and rhythm guitar accompaniment. His gift of restraint fits together with the Wyatt's spirited drumming backed by Bill McCormack's walking bass lines. Dave McRae is the Fender Rhodes player who runs amok on all tracks in particularly on "Smoke Rings" where he gets to use his unique combination of effects (wah-wah pedal with ring modulator). Wyatt himself injects a few choice snowball-down-the-hill style drums solos on "Nan True's Hole" while McCormack even delivers a fierce bass solo on the earliest known version of Miller's piece, "Lything and Gracing". The performances have been gathered from several unspecified locales in 1972. The artwork on this archival disc has lovingly recreated an alternate take on the band's debut album cover from 1971. Overall this set of recordings adds more data to serve as the precursor for Miller's acclaimed next project, Hatfield and the North, while McCormack appeared later in 801 (with Phil Manzanera).

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