Audio Remasterer: Morgan Ågren.
Recording information: Swedish Radio, Stockholm.
Photographers: Karin Sundström; Kajsa Olbjörns; Morgan Ågren.
Cuneiform's 2013 two-disc compilation Radio Da Da/The Teenage Tapes is the label's deepest dig yet into the back history of Swedish avant-prog/fusion duo Mats/Morgan, aka keyboardist Mats Öberg and drummer Morgan Ågren. Radio Da Da and The Teenage Tapes were first released separately in 1998 in Sweden by Ågren's Ultimate Audio Entertainment imprint, but the latter album actually compiled tracks dating as far back as 1981. With the addition of previously unreleased bonus tracks, the expanded/remastered Cuneiform set now spans from that year all the way to 2008, with 54 tracks ranging from 21 seconds to nine-and-a-half minutes in length, adding up to a generous two-and-a-half-hour package overall. Comprising the first disc here, Radio Da Da was recorded in 1992, the year after Frank Zappa fans Öberg and Ågren had been part of the Zappa's Universe live ensemble, and Frank's influence looms over the proceedings, notably in how the tracks jump from one stylistic influence and experimental approach to the next while hanging together like a fractured collage or suite. Aside from a few scattered guest appearances, Öberg and Ågren multi-tracked nearly everything themselves, and a few Öberg vocals have a rather Zappa-esque sensibility (and a bit of Stevie Wonder too), although rather than sardonic observational humor, listeners get the escapes from civilization "Forest Man" and "Djungle Man," and Öberg's amusingly unhinged performance of "Moon Dog" ("My dog is a moon dog/She can act real strange!"), while in a spoken tidbit (on a bonus track, no less), Zappa bassist Scott Thunes offers up the witticism "Eat my poo-poo."
"Darling Darling..." ("...please come home!") begins with enough bizarre effects to perch its "vocal" refrain midway between human and nonhuman, while the ripping solo (from guest bassist Johan Granström?) that overtakes the concluding tribal section of "Täljes Logan" seems part musical instrument and part bodily function. But Radio Da Da is mainly a first-rate set of synth-heavy instrumental avant-prog and fusion, with Ågren's clean and powerful drumming and both men's creative keyboard explorations staking out unique scored and improvised territory while also recalling -- in addition to Zappa -- the music of Bruford ("Här Kommer Bodd"), National Health ("Fialka's House," including a midsection of alien chamber music), and even Joe Zawinul/Weather Report (the aforementioned "Darling Darling..." and "Beside the Swamp"). With its 36 generally shorter tracks recorded to Portastudio, ADAT, two-track digital, 16-track analog, etc., The Teenage Tapes on disc two is more scattershot and sometimes less sophisticated and multi-layered, but there is still plenty of inventiveness, and the brevity and (non-chronological) sequencing of the tracks works to the music's advantage. The kids playing the Beatles' "Help!" live in 1981, complete with shouty vocals from a ten-year-old Öberg and a high-energy drum break from a 14-year-old Ågren, is a jarring outlier, but it's merely the first page in a book -- still being written over 30 years later -- whose early chapters displayed here are worthy of repeated visits. ~ Dave Lynch