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Michael and the Mumbles - Michael and the Mumbles

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Artist: Michael and the Mumbles

Album: Michael and the Mumbles

Label: De Stijl

Review date: Jan. 8, 2010

Minneapolitan renaissance man Michael Yonkers’ latent musical resurgence moved like this: comp tracks on the Dove Records collection Free Flight, followed by a mistakenly-titled single on Get Hip, then a full-length Microminiature Love, on Destijl (later reissued with more session tracks by Sub Pop), and I lose track after that. The guy has, like, 45 years’ worth of material to get through; much of it is varied, and as of a year or two ago – at least at the time our own Jennifer Kelly conducted this interview – he was still physically able to record music and play live. But Michael and the Mumbles is the first time anyone’s explored any music of his that predates the songs which fueled our fascination.

One might assume that digging out the guy’s high school band (which contained his brother, James Yonkers, and keyboardist Jim Woerhle, both of whom would go on to play in his ’68 trio that came inches away from a deal with a very young Sire Records, and would have otherwise invented Billy Childish’s approach to singing) would be an exercise in barrel scrape, and to be sure, those looking for innovation might search elsewhere in his career. The savvy Yonkers would put into his sawed-down electric guitars, homemade Echoplex units, and other home-built effects are not found here. Rather, it’s a set of murky basement garage muffle, rife with the sort of inconsistent playing you’d expect from high schoolers such as them. The master seems to have held up well, save in a couple of spots, and the material sounds cobbled together from various recording experiments.

And yet, there’s still something compelling about this one. Here are twelve original songs, written by Michael Yonkers, at an early age. This was still the era of teen garage bands all around the country, so it’s fitting that their influences lean more towards the rocky bounce of Trashmen than the Beatles. The Fab Four’s influence could be felt across most popular music back then, and a track like “I Love Her” reflects their dominance. Still, the subdued quality of the performances (save a capable, if unrequited drum solo on “Yea Yea Yea,” and a little guitar soling in the background of “Look Down”) swats a spectral paw across the whole session, somewhere between subdued darkness and straight-up drowsiness. There are some bleak, clutching sentiments at work here, which simultaneously places the band in the crushed velvet world of the hotel lounge act. Nothing here really catches fire, and yet it remains interesting as it lurches around in the fruit cellar. Across the world, Australia’s Missing Links would provide a suitable simile with their moaning, desperate teen poon anthem “You’re Driving Me Insane.” They’d also have a hit, as well, whereas Yonkers never even came close. Michael and the Mumbles won’t do much to change that fact, but insofar as the marketplace currently buckles under the volume of “classic” unreleased albums by musicians far less interesting than Yonkers, this one delivers some sort of half-eaten goods, simply by following its own instincts instead of following the crowd.

By Doug Mosurock

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