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Art Bears


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4 stars This album signalled the end of the Art Bears and is very much in the spirit of their 2nd release (Winter Songs). This time the topic is more political, but the approach remains the same. Each song, no matter how short, offers at least one (and often much more) musical idea that both motivates each piece and matches the lyrics. "Freedom" scorches with pain...the intertwining of Dagmar's voice with Frith's guitar is brilliant and electrifying. "Truth" takes a much softer tack, but one that is no less effective at delivering the message within an appropriate and compelling package. The musical stops at the words "prosperity" "truth" and "eden" are cynicism at its very best. These are not easy songs, but they are rewarding.

Report this review (#23789)
Posted Wednesday, February 2, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars Third and last stage of the Art Bears space rocket, this World As It Is Today is definitely the apex of RIO music, flirting with Faust and "musique concrete", which is likely top have many progheads flee, even though they (AB) use a mellotron here and there. Coming with an enticing landscape artwork (later modified in reissues), this album more than picks up where the previous Winter Songs had left it off, it atomizes whatever had been done before. It took apparently two years to make and that would sound logical since there seems to be an intermediate step between WS and TWAIIT, but it's nowhere to be found, hence the two year interval.

If the preceding (and aptly titled) Winter Songs was mostly based on real "songs", while not respecting the usual format, World is definitely more complex than it or even most HC albums. Not only does the album returns to certain form of brutal anti-capitalism (in this case some song titles makes IPOL's tracks look like lullabies), but the very dissonant nature of the music make it one of the most difficult album of the closing decade (let's consider this to be with the rest of AB as 70's). Ultimately this might be the toughest AB album to understand, but it might be the most rewarding you you've mastered it, although I still have a preference for H&F

This album is more than likely THE album that influenced 5UU or Thinking Plague, so it is extremely influential and essential, but it's not an album to put between everyone's ears either, especially the stuck in their neo-comfort zone prog. Other more adventurous progheads should give it a try, because even if I don't give another star, it's definitely worth hearing but hardly certain you will like it.

Report this review (#23790)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Art Bears' third and final album was recorded much like the preceding Winter Songs - Chris Cutler arrived at the studio with the lyrics already written, Frith set them to music more or less on the spot and the album was completed in just a couple of weeks. Where the previous album drew heavily on Cutler's fascination with the Middle Ages, The World... goes back to the Brechtian influences heard on Hopes and Fears and the lyrics are a savage critique of global capitalism. Frith's music complements this perfectly, while Dagmar Krause gave a bravura performance as RIO's answer to Lotte Lenya.

Right from the outset the listener is left in no doubt as to the direction of this material; 'The Song Of Investment Capital Overseas' comes straight out of Bertold Brechts Big Book Of Catchy Song Titles, while Frith's piano driven setting, underpinned by Cutler's restless drumming, suggests a militant left wing cabaret band. Imagine Slapp Happy after an intensive course in Marxism and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This sets the tone for what is to follow - the folk influences discernible on the first two albums are largely absent, while the use of the studio is now an integral part of the compositional process. The influence of pioneers like Faust and The Residents is more overt than ever, and on Civilisation the lengthy coda sounds like a nod to Not Waving/Water from This Heat's first album. While there is no out and out rocker here, Democracy features some thunderous drumming in contrast to Cutler's more characteristic featherlight playing. The sonic palette has changed, with piano and keyboards more to the fore and less emphasis on violin and guitar than previously. Fred Frith's piano contributions are his best since Robert Wyatt's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, while his knack with catchy but unpredictable melodies has rarely been deployed to better effect. The songs are also very much to the point, with six of the ten titles lasting less than three minutes, and the superb Law clocks in at 0.51 - short, sharp and bitterly sarcastic. As ever, it is Dagmar who brings these songs to life, and on Freedom she improvises a truly blood curdling wail which builds slowly into a scream of anguish and despair, while Fred Frith plays a perfectly judged guitar solo that Robert Fripp would be proud of as a counterpoint. Etienne Conod is at the controls as engineer once again, and really deserves to be thought of as the fourth Art Bear - this is a beautifully recorded album which is only dated in places by Cutler's use of electric drums.

If The World As It Is Today doesn't quite have the clarity and beauty of Winter Songs, it's still an excellent album which shows RIO at its best. The lyrics are, if anything, more relevant today than they were in 1980, and the album would work well as a soundtrack to the anti-capitalist demonstrations at recent G8 summits. It's also been massively influential on RIO/Avant prog. Art Bears continue to cast a long shadow over this genre, and like their other albums The World As It Is Today repays careful and repeated listening. Recommended.

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Posted Thursday, March 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars While I strongly disagree with the lyrics here I find this a very interesting album, and certainly this particular record influenced many Rio / Avant bands that would follow. I have the remastered version which was done by Bob Drake. So we have Dagmar Krause on vocals, Fred Frith on keyboards, guitars and violin. He also composed all the music. Chris Cutler on drums and percussion and he wrote all the lyrics. I prefer "Winter Songs" to this one but there's something about this that fascinates me. It's melancholic and depressing anti-pop that's filled with intrigue. It's like looking at the world through someone else's eyes and while the view is not the same as mine I want to look. To be honest i'm glad I don't see things this way.

"The Song Of Investment Capital Overseas" is a downer with vocals, piano, bass and drums standing out. "Truth" has this cool rhythm with vocals.The vocals stop but the rhythm continues with keyboards. "Freedom" has double tracked vocals with piano and drums. She screams after a minute and it goes on and on. Insane but good. "(Armed) Peace" is a reserved but chaotic track. "Civilisation" sounds so good with the powerful atmosphere and floating organ. Vocals after 1 1/2 minutes. Eerie stuff.

"Democracy" is bombastic with vocals."The Song Of Martyrs" features vocals,floating organ and piano early on.The tempo picks up after a minute then settles back without vocals. It picks back up after 3 minutes with vocal expresssions."Law" puts the focus on the vocals and piano. "The Song Of Monopolists" is a good one as she sings "That's the way of the world alright" over and over. "The Song Of The Dignity Of Labour Under Capital" is brighter with piano and vocals. Discordant piano late. "Albion Awake !" is pretty much the opposite of melodic and it's also somewhat haunting.

Barely 4 stars but because of it's influence I feel it deserves the four stars.

Report this review (#305208)
Posted Monday, October 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album is one of the toughest albums to review. The words are well written, although most of the people will disagree with them in some way. The composition isn't for every one, and not always melodic. From the start of the album till its end, it's not hard to understand what they are trying to say, and the music helps with passing the message to us. From the tracks, a picture of a corrupted world is what we see, and the lyrics uses metaphors that are identified with England to show that a change is needed. All the tracks stand out, different from each other, and as relevant today as they were back at the 1980s if not more. But if I have to point some, they will surely be those: Truth shows cynicism at its best, with stoppages at words like truth, and Eden. The song of the martyrs shows great pain, and the last track is anything but melodic. Overall, this is not an easy album, but it's an album that shows RIO at one of its highest points. 4.5 out of 5.

Report this review (#635024)
Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars The trick of presenting hyper-challenging music which eschews all conventional format but still successfully conveys a message, which had somewhat eluded Henry Cow on In Praise of Learning, is perfect by Art Bears on The World As It Is Today. This would be the final release from the Bears before another personnel reconfiguration would yield the mighty, magnificent News From Babel - and like all good Final Fantasy bosses, the final form of Henry Cow would prove to be unstoppable. However, despite the strong heritage of the Art Bears (both their previous albums and Henry Cow) and the excellent work that would follow, The World As It Is Today more than stands its own as a piece of the puzzle.
Report this review (#1016229)
Posted Sunday, August 11, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's not easy reviewing one of one's favorite albums, and disagreeing with at least 50% of the lyrics doesn't make it any easier. But? I can try to review, to explain, to express, why I think that this album is such a masterpiece. Saying that the lyrics are top-notch, that the music complements them perfectly, that all members give here their best effort to date (and that says a lot when considering who the people we're talking about here truly are), doesn't give us much. Saying that the music here changed the RIO and avant-garde worlds of music, and even shaped the less experimental ones doesn't give much either. One has to listen, truly listen, and to read, truly read, in order to fully appreciate this short album. All I can hope to achieve, all I can strive for, is to give you a taste.

We open with The Song of Investment Capital Oversees, a ferocious attack against one of the leading habits of the globalized world- "investing" in poorer countries. And while this capital investment is done from great ideals, it lacs the understanding to prevent the damages it creates. This is what Krause sings in here, with one of the easier songs in the album. "The roads and rails/ Ran like cracks and/ Carry me/ Upon their backs". Two times she sings this two stanzas song, growing more sinister and cynic with each line. The music is industrial yet melodic, a combination of old and new, trying to keep the known and loved but failing to do so. She then sings only some of the lines, again and again, stressing the damages.

Then comes Truth, which is a song about the lies we tell ourselves in order to continue living in this strange world. After 2 sinister verses, she sings ""Then I got reading/ And I learned/ PROSPERITY/ Had come-/ And this was/ EDEN". A strange and quite sick guitar solo follows, a bit repetitive, letting the worlds transcend, expressing what words cannot.

Freedom is pure avant-garde, with a French "Musique Concrete" vibe to it. "Free to starve, or to/ Slave; free to choose/ A or B, as we offered,/ To labor or die." After the lyrics end, we are presented with a screaming solo, utilizing all of Krause's abilities, with an even colder guitar solo. Cutler on the drums somehow manages to sound like a cold machine and yet emotional and humane.

(Armed) Peace is even more avant-garde if that is even possible, yet remains melodic enough to express what it has to say. "The lamp of life/ Blew out, Peace/ Sheathed his sword/ Calm fell".

Then we get to Civilization, which is a twisted and lonely song, about the lack of one. Krause joins at around 1:30, Cutler is almost non-present. "The boatman shipped his oars/ -his tiny lantern glimmered,/ I could see no more?"

Democracy is a strange little beast that one has to listen too for oneself. It somehow manages to express in 2 minutes what most political theorists with this goal need courses and books to explain. It's dark, it's cold, it's malicious, and it's a masochistic trip to our ears. Cutler is no less than amazing on his drums, successfully holding the song in shape while refusing to keep to a constant rhythm, or to any rhythm at all for that matter.

The Song of the Martyrs is a cry from the revolutionaries, those who fought for those ideals, those who were martyred for those ideals, a cry from them about how bad their dream came to be. "All our lives, all of us/ Whose bones you have/ Climbed on/ -Were all our lives wasted?" it's melancholic for most of the time, like a crying from heaven, then an attack aimed at us 'damn criminals' if I might describe it in less polite words.

Law is short and precise, happy to the humorous extreme, sounding like a sick party from earlier days, cynic with a purpose. Then comes the attack on Capitalism, aimed as a satire from the monopolists' point of view. "Keep calm!/ The small ones will go down,/ The air will clear/ The strong will sweep/ The weak ones up." Krause sings pompously, full of herself, with the melodies behind her serving like choir of backing vocals.

The Song of the Dignity of Labor Under Capital is a cry for help, for showing feelings, for being humane, for treating one's workers like human beings. "And I cried and I cried/ And my hands went on/ Working/ And the work/ Hurried by." Towards the end the song becomes stranger and more chaotic, like building towards something, building towards?

Albion Awake, which is a cry for a new socialist revolution. All is leading to here, for this we were working, and the time has come, the time is right. It's one of the most avant-garde pieces in this already hard one, being Musique Concrete taken to its rightful extreme. "Awake! Awake!/ Let banners fly like/ Shrapnel, and efface/ The Sky".

And with that the album ends. So, how should I rate it? For me, even though I don't agree with the lyrics, even though for most people the music will be too experimental, even though it's not always possible to say that it even resembles or has connections to "normal" Prog, this is one of the rare instances in which a 5 star rating is not enough. Essential is not powerful enough a word to describe it.

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Posted Thursday, January 1, 2015 | Review Permalink

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