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Art Bears - Winter Songs CD (album) cover

WINTER SONGS

Art Bears

RIO/Avant-Prog


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quietlights@h
5 stars This is perhaps the darkest album recorded in the 1970's. It is near perfect in every way. Staggering rhythm sections lay ground for twisted melodies and haunting lyrics that defy anything before it. Most gothic rock albums are pale in comparison to Winter Songs. The darkness that exist on this album is undeniably beautiful.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#23785)
Posted Saturday, November 29, 2003 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the greatest albums ever made, but not an easy listen. The vocals can be a turn-off at first, as can the absence of obvious melodies BUT PERSIST: there are so many rewards!

Anyone interested in exploring the darker nether-worlds of prog should start here.

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Send comments to Silk (BETA) | Report this review (#23786)
Posted Thursday, February 05, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars Winter Songs is a much more fitting example of Art Bears music than the debut Hope And Fears is: indeed only the basic trio is present and the Henry Cow page is now turned. Apparently written arranged and recorded (and mixed) in less than two weeks, this might sound like a tour de force, but before saying, please make sure you throw an ear on this album before making a judgment. I'm saying this because I read a review or two claiming Art Bears to be "Gothic Rock". I'm not sure they heard the same album I did. Unless they think of Bauhaus or Killing Joke's incessant sonic assaults on your sanity, I really don't see Dagmar dressed as a gothic witch belting would-be opera vocals, but Art Bears is nowhere close to ether end of the Gothic rock spectrum.

Musically there are still HC links, but we've moved away from it and towards the Slapp Happy (desperate Straits), but it's clear that art Bears goes out of its way to try to annoy your ears in order to open your minds, and for that Dagmar's vocals is the perfect too, stretching from the psychotic and completely mad to the semi-cabaret-style (Dietrich-Minelli style) vocals, and never leaving you in the aural comfort zone. Of course CC and FF will do nothing to ease your ill mind and soothe your aching eardrums with their respective drumming and torturing the string of the latter's guitars (Hermit is amazing in this regard) and violin and twiddles the keys. Cutler's drumming is particularly impressive throughout the album, but in The Slave. Dagmar's vocals at the shriekiest are in the following Rats & Monkeys but somehow after the first few listens, your ears grows to accept it as "normal" (even the more "Teutonic" intonations) and the rest of the music will go down easier (or relatively easily), because YOU have progressed. Winter Songs is definitely more song oriented than Henry Cow was as Skeleton Crew or News From Babel will be.

Winter Songs is certainly a more representative Art Bears album than its predecessor and debut Hope & Fears, but personally I find it a bit bare and too raw at times. As said above, AB seems to go out of its way to destabilize their listeners, and as praise-worthy this angle on music is, it sometimes sounds artificial, as is the case here. I'll be careful about the recommendations, because this is not for everyone, but then again, if you're looking up Art Bears, you've passed a while ago the TFK-neo prog stage, so you shouldn't be all that taken aback by this. And compared to its successor, this one is a bit of top 40 easy listening album. So I won't make this essential, although more than one RIO-head would.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#23788)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
slack4justice
2 stars Winter Songs is a highly experimental album, due to the fact that there are mostly no melodies present. The album is almost entirely experimentation that's either good or bad. Devoid of anything contemporary, this album sounds like a collection of rejected Residents songs, but not touching the level of emotion, melody and overall sound that they can produce. It's a bit electronic, but it still sounds primitive and raw, and very dark. The album consists of mostly inaudible high-pitched vocals, texture, and winding playing. However, these things did not mix up into anything that's necessarily strong. On listen I can tell that the only people that would get a kick out of this are the people who are entirely into experimentation, or fans of the players in the band. So all in all this album doesn't have any kind of strengths; as far as melody there is none, as far as good playing there is none, as far as experimentation, the fact that the album is all experimentation and almost any other experimental albums you can find other than this are stronger, it's pretty sad.

Winter Songs is an intriguing album, but even if you dig down deep into each thing that this album is trying to convey, it's not successful.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#37276)
Posted Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Work of Art Bears announced in 1979 "Winter Songs". An indeed splendid album was produced though Art Bears was not widely listened. It is a work that can catch a glimpse of a complex concept though it is simple music. It is a masterpiece of the Electric music. Essential: a masterpiece of progressive music.

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Send comments to braindamage (BETA) | Report this review (#51889)
Posted Saturday, October 15, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Though most of the instruments are played by Fred Frith, Cultler´s influence gives the work coherence and form. Compare Frith´s solo work with the Art Bears. There is considerable amount of prepared tape; sounds of voices, percussions and guitars, backwards, speeded-up- etc. I listened to this record everyday for many months.

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Send comments to Paco DelCaos (BETA) | Report this review (#59263)
Posted Monday, December 05, 2005 | Review Permalink
Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Art Bears' second album is their masterpiece, a beautifully focussed and concentrated piece of work that was recorded in just 2 weeks. Amazingly, the music was all written during the recording period - Chris Cutler arrived with the texts, Fred Frith set them to music and the arrangements evolved in the studio. On this album there were no guest musicians, although special mention should be made of engineer Etienne Conod's contribution to their use of the studio as a compositional instrument.

Where their debut album explored several different themes, the lyrics for Winter Songs are informed mostly by Chris Cutler's fascination with the Middle Ages and are based on stone carvings in Amiens cathedral (except for two songs that refer to similar carvings in other cathedrals from the same era and area). The words are always poetic and sometimes oblique, although Cutler's political leanings can be inferred from Gold: "Owned men mined me/And out of their lives all my value derived/And out of their deaths/My authority". The music has some of folk influences first heard on 'Hopes and Fears' (Frith began his musical career in folk clubs and some of his solo albums feature his unique take on various folk traditions), but also ventures into dense, dark RIO style chamber rock and even into Residents- influenced studio wizardry. With Frith playing everything except drums, the arrangements are precise and uncluttered. Bass guitar is only heard on a few tracks, most notably on The Summer Wheel and 3 Figures, and like all the other elements in the sonic palette it is only used when necessary. There are some splendid passages featuring violin and piano, as well as Frith's ever inventive guitar. Chris Cutler's drumming is likewise a model of clarity and concision - rather than trying to fill all the available space, he knows when to drive the tempo forward, when to play softly to complement Frith or Dagmar and - most crucially - when not to play at all. Dagmar's interpretation of this material features some of her best vocal performances - The Hermit is sung with a clear, bell like tone, on The Skeleton she is at her most strident and the frantically uptempo Rats and Monkeys (a counterpart to the rock out on In Two Minds from Hopes and Fears) shows the uniqueness of her talent. A particularly powerful moment comes at the opening of First Things First, where the vocal is played backwards as an introduction to the song, mirroring the the theme of the lyrics (two dead trees pulling apart in opposite directions). Lyrics, melody, rhythm, arrangement and production are all informed by a singular vision, and there is nothing extraneous anywhere in these 12 songs.

Despite the possibly forbidding avant garde credentials of the writers and performers, this often a melodic and accessible album. Dagmar's voice is something of an acquired taste, but it is worth persevering with; few albums released under the 'rock' banner have such a coherent and fully realised artistic vision. This album is on a par with Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom, Christian Vander's Wurdah Itah or Captain Beefheart's Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Uneasy listening, but highly rewarding and strongly recommended.

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Send comments to Syzygy (BETA) | Report this review (#73461)
Posted Wednesday, March 29, 2006 | Review Permalink
thellama73
COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars An excellent, very very artsy album. Words that come to mind are violent, bleak and cold.

Dagmar Krause's powerful and unique voice dominates most of the record, with sparse and percussive stabs of innovative instrumentals arrangements serving as a backdrop, with the occasional studio experiment The lyrics are stark and often beautiful portraits of the dark ages, with allegorical undertones.

At times the album is soft (although it never even comes close to anything other than "difficult" listening) and at times it becomes maniacally frenzied, as in the show stopping "Rats and Monkeys," which is a great track for getting whoever is in the room to promptly leave.

In short, it's not for everyone, but if you can get past the somewhat abrasive quality of the music, you'll find it very rewarding.

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Send comments to thellama73 (BETA) | Report this review (#118475)
Posted Sunday, April 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This is ART BEARS second album.It was originally released on THE RESIDENTS "Ralph Records" label. It's been remastered by Bob Drake and re-released on the ReR label. They're a trio with Dagmar Krause on vocals, Fred Frith on guitar / violin / keyboards and Chris Cutler on drums. Chris also wrote the lyrics that "Tell political allegories through medieval-tinged stories." My biggest surprise with this album was at how dark it was, then add Dagmar's often creepy vocals and it makes the cover art seem ironic.

"The Bath Of Stars" is dark with the organ floating in the background as these creepy vocals slowly come and go. Cool song. "First Things First" opens with vocals only then these dark,sparse piano lines join in. Drums and guitar after a minute. "Gold" again opens with vocals only. Piano and other sounds join in. Eerie stuff. "The Summer Wheel" is led by drums and piano as vocals join in. This is almost normal sounding. Love the drumming. He's busy yet restrained. Bass like sounds after 2 minutes. "The Slave" sounds really good. It settles after a minute as the organ floats in with almost spoken vocals. It kicks back in with violin after 2 minutes. Guitar follows. Nice. "The Hermit" opens with vocals followed by violin and drums. Contrasts continue. I like this one a lot. "Rats And Monkeys" features aggressive vocals as the violin screeches. Intense is the word here. A crazy ending to this one too.

"The Skeleton" opens with organ and drums.Vocals and piano around a minute. Guitar before 2 minutes. "The Winter Wheel" is led by drums and vocals early.Great sound after 2 1/2 minutes as it has gotten much fuller. "Man And Boy" has a crazy intro.It's dark and ominous as the almost spoken vocals with piano join in. A very avant-garde tune. "Winter / War" is slow paced with vocals and piano. It picks up 1 1/2 minutes with guitar and drums. "Force" is uptempo with vocals as the guitar joins in. "Three Figures" has some excellent vocal arrangements on it and I really like the overall sound. "Three Wheels" opens with vocals. Piano arrives as it calms down. Reserved vocals join in. Amazing sound as it gets fuller. Love the atmosphere.

4.5 stars for this one. A must for Rio / Avant fans.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#298329)
Posted Friday, September 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
1 stars What a nightmare! I fail to acknowledge that the noise and wailing produced by Art Bears has anything to do with music! And undeservedly high rating for this album may be very misleading to the unprepared listener, such as myself. Based on what I heard about them I expected it to be weird, but not as unlistenable as it turned out to be... I wonder how other people manage to find any value in this, you cannot all pretend that this is really a masterpiece.

Unfortunately the lowest I can put is one star, so here it is, but really it is 0/5 You've been warned!

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Send comments to Heyfordian (BETA) | Report this review (#887420)
Posted Friday, January 04, 2013 | Review Permalink
GruvanDahlman
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Actually, I find this album hard to rate. Given the fact that there are obvious talents and visions behind the madness, I still find ot hard to digest. At least that is true to a certain extent. While the music IS challenging, it is also strangely accessible in it's inaccessibility.

After listening to it several times I do see a pattern. Somewhere. A lot of the songs on the album are quite literary insane. Not to an extent where the melody is totally absent but rather hard to follow. On top of it all are the strange noises from electronic gadegets, as it would seem.

For me, personally, there are two tracks in particular standing out. The first one is "The hermit" which seems almost like a folk song and the second being "The skeleton". The latter is eerie and haunting while the first is very beautiful. "Haunting" is actually a word fit to describe most of the music on here. It seems to me that the lasting impression of "Winter songs" is a record of horror-like soundscapes, given verbal wings by a mad woman. (All meant in the most affectionate and loving way.)

In conclusion I could say that this kind of prog is not my cup of tea, still I find it intriguing and not all that distant to my usual taste. I could well, and will do, return quite often to the Art Bears and find reward in their music. It is weird but endearing and brave. Original and daring. Maybe that is really what prog is all about?

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Send comments to GruvanDahlman (BETA) | Report this review (#956551)
Posted Thursday, May 09, 2013 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The first Art Bears album produced by Frith, Cutler and Krause on their own (they had the help of the rest of Henry Cow on the debut album), Winter Songs offers exactly what it says on the tin: a set of song-oriented compositions with a brittle, cold atmosphere enhanced by some intriguing tape experiments. The sound here is naturally more sparse than the debut, due to the stripped-down lineup, but here and there you can hear the seeds which would eventually grow into the excellent News From Babel debut album. An acquired taste, but I actually think it stands up better to repeated listens than some of Henry Cow's lesser works.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1003305)
Posted Monday, July 22, 2013 | Review Permalink

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