Austin McMahon’s Album “Many Muses”

28 Mar

austinmcmahonSometimes I think it’s just nuts how many amazing musicians I know.  For real – it’s nuts.  At any given moment in time, there are at least four or five albums that require my attention, released by various players I went to school with or have played alongside in SF.  They’re all off the beaten path, ranging in genre from modern jazz to Baltic improvisation to dream-pop to hard rock. And to a one, they are all really, really good.

So, I decided that I’d take the opportunity to write a bit about some of them, to try to put into words just what I like about each album so much. My intention is not to post criticism or reviews, just to share a bit about some of my friends and the music they make.

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The first one I’ll tackle is a new album by drummer Austin McMahon. His debut solo record, it’s titled “Many Muses,” and holy balls, it is great.  Austin and I were in the same year at UMiami; well, I should say we started the same year. Austin was one of those overachieving types who showed up flush with AP credits and got his undergrad and his master’s in 5 years.  During that time, he became probably the most sought-after drummer at school, and it wasn’t because he had amazingly burning chops (he did), or because he could juggle his sticks while wailing on the double-bass pedal (I have not seen him do this, but I’m sure he can); it was because he was so musical in his playing, so deft and supportive with his choices, that he made anyone he was playing with sound better.  I’ve never heard a drummer so in tune with the bigger picture, so aware of the contours of the band around him – and neither had anyone else.

So, yeah. Austin is a freaking awesome drummer. His playing is on display on several other of my friends’ albums as well, each of which deserves (and will have) its own post on this blog. He plays beautifully on Kenji Shinagawa’s album “Perhaps, Drawing Again,” on Landon Knoblock’s record “The Heartbeat, The Breath,” and he plays his ass off on Carmen Staaf’s new disc “Reflection” (Carmen also plays piano and accordion on “Muses”).

But here’s the thing about “Many Muses” – while there is plenty of great drumming on this album, at its heart, this record is all about Austin’s compositions. More so than just about any record I’ve heard recently, this disc is a collection of melodies, tied together by an uncluttered and uncompromising vision and performed with an unbelievable level of dexterity and clarity.  These songs are really, really fucking good, with precisely-structured layers and wonderful, logical melodies.  I have heard Austin’s compositions before, and have always thought of him as a really musical dude, but this album has blown my reckoning of the man to a new level.

Take the opening track, “Vidrio.”  Does it get any cooler than this?  It’s got this awesome, lurching melody, and it just develops, develops, develops.  Or hell, listen to the ballad “Strife,” for an undiluted melody, played, appropriately, by Austin himself on the melodica, along with clarinet and arco bass.  Want to hear the drums take the melody on themselves?  Check out “I.O.U.”

It’s also cool that Carmen is playing on this record, since “Many Muses” feels a bit similar to her most recent record; it’s got clarinet, Austin on drums, intricately composed tunes, and has a number of shorter “interlude” pieces that make listening to the album much more of an experience than listening to any one track. Going along with the argument I made a few months ago, it stands to reason that as long as artists are making albums with this much consideration put towards the flow and experience of the record as a whole, the album as a musical form is not going anywhere.

This is an album I really like, made by someone I’m super-proud to know.  Do yourself a favor and buy this disc – it is an absolutely amazing work, loaded with beautiful melodies and outstanding, delicate musicianship.

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5 Responses to “Austin McMahon’s Album “Many Muses””

  1. nikko March 28, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

    i like you.

    i like the way you write.

    the fug girls and fug madness are aweome.

    the tv references, for seriously.

    good recap about jon stewart vs jim cramer.

    that’s all for now.

    murfin.

    *n (aka – austin’s sister)

  2. nikkol March 28, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    it’s nikkol

    nikko is a japanese chemical type place

    • Kirk March 29, 2009 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks, Nikkol! The Fug Girls are my heroines.

      By which I mean that I really admire them. I do not want to grind them up and inject them into my arm.

  3. Eric March 29, 2009 at 8:57 pm #

    Awesome review. I couldn’t have praised Austin any better myself. In fact, I have the strong urge to write and record a killer album now in the hopes that you might one day write such flattering words about me. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying browsing the random goings-on here at Murfins and Burglars. You’re a heckuva a writer Hammy! See what I did there? It’s like that whole “heckuva job brownie” thing, except with… umm… so… i’m just gonna…

    • Kirk March 31, 2009 at 9:47 am #

      Thanks, Eric!

      I hope to be receiving a heckuva Presidential Medal of Freedom any day now.

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