Even to this day it sounds fresh and brave.
Chris Jones 2008-08-08
Primarily remembered in this country for their 1980 hit, Echo Beach, Martha And The Muffins have long been under-appreciated in their place in the creative forefront of what we now term new wave. Like many acts of the time, they attempted to fuse intelligence and experimentalism with dancefloor-friendly beats and basslines: a sort of Canadian Gang Of Four, if you will. Danseparc, their fourth album has long been known by their hardcore fans as one of their defining statements. Here it's finally re-released with bonus tracks.
The band had, by this point shedded founding members and decided to rename themselves M+M (a name that was later to stand for remaining members, Martha Johnson and Mark Gane). Having already relocated to their native Toronto, their previous album (This Is The Ice Age, 1981) had been produced by Daniel Lanois, and it was he who went back into the studio with them in 1983 when, dropped by Virgin, they signed to indie label, Current Records. Lanois' sister, Jocelyne also joined the band.
Danseparc's angular funk and tribal modernism revolved around a loose concept of the park in modern urban life. ie: The way in which it attempted to recreate a Waldonian wilderness within the heart of the city and all the contradictions that this raised.
Such a lofty concept took its cue from Eno and Byrne's 'fourth world' primitivism, especially on Talking Heads' Remain In Light. In fact the players here represent the next wave of art rock's adoption of ethnic forms and ultra-modern technology. The father of plunderphonics, John Oswald, makes an appeartance on sax on Boys In The Bushes, while the touring version of the band (included on a live bonus version of Danseparc) included future ambient guitar legend, Michael Brook. Both he and Lanois were of course to work with their hero Eno. And it's Lanois who really makes his mark here. A veritable fifth member of the band during the recording, he pushed the sonic limits of what might have been a functional new wave album. Guitars are flanged into insanity while the pallette of percussion rattles teases and gets the white boy hoodoo down straight. It constantly takes risks - for instance the blistering guitar overkill about a minute and a half into opener, Obedience. On top of this the album features film samples, manages to slip in singing pygmies and even what sounds like cistercian chanting.
Amazingly, for such an intellectual record, Danseparc's title track did enter the Canadian top 40 and critical acclaim ran high. Even to this day it sounds fresh and brave.