BY MIKE SHANLEY
They’d both hate to hear this, but Lester Bangs and Frank Zappa had at least one thing in common: a lot of people have attempted to emulate their distinct personalities. Likewise, many of them fall short and only manage to evoke the more annoying qualities of these men. While Bangs’ copycats write about themselves in pieces that were supposed to focus on other things, Zappa’s acolytes capture his provocative qualities and love for sheets of notes, but leave out the ability to wrap it in something that’s more than jokes and musical chops.
Mats Oberg (keyboards) and Morgan Algren (drums) were both child prodigies with a love for jazz, fusion and progressive rock when they were paired up at a concert in their native Sweden in 1982. A mat, who was blind from birth, was 10 while his partner was just 14. Their bond has continued to this day, and along the way the Mats/Morgan Band has released several albums at home and in the US (several for Cuneiform). Among their fans was none other than Zappa himself, who had them appear on his 1988 tour of Sweden. They would have joined his band later if illness hadn’t derailed the guitarist. Eventually, they did play in a tribute band with some Zappa alum.
This massive two-disc set re-releases Mats/Morgan’s earliest works. Radio Da was recorded in 1992 while The Teenage Tapes contains a hodgepodge of tracks that date back as far as 1981, continuing up through 2008. It’s clear these kids were skilled musicians from a very young age. The melodic ideas that come across through the album are staggering. Taking a cue from their guru, they often come up with some rapid-fire melodies, though a lot of them don’t do much more than show off their chops. At other times, Oberg’s synthesizers have the slick feel of Jan Hammer-esque fusion. A few tracks even border on Muzak.
Then there’s the humor that pervades these albums. Of course, when you incorporate teenage guys into the picture, especially Zappa fans, there’s going to be some juvenilia. But jokey scatting along with the keyboards, or the synth voice that sounds like a Siri singing “doo doo,” make what might be a decent track sound more annoying. The song “Radio Da Da” might have been an attempt at Dadaism. But after a lo-fi live recording, it becomes unlistenable when it switches to the sound of a friend repeating the word “Dupont” in various inflections for two minutes. Whether or not you had to be there, you don’t want to be here now with it. A squeaky live cover of “Help!” inserts a Ginger Baker-style drum solo between verses, which might amuse diehard fans. That group of listeners seems to be who this set is geared towards anyway. There are a total of 53 tracks, with each disc coming in at 74 minutes. That kind of commitment is best left to devotees. And like Zappa, it appears Mats/Morgan has them in abundance.
DOWNLOAD: “Fialka’s House,” “Avalone”