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News From Babel - Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower CD (album) cover

SIRENS AND SILENCES/WORK RESUMED ON THE TOWER

News From Babel

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Nice to see the inclusion of this wonderful chapter in the Henry Cow saga.... Naturally, what we have here is the logical continuation from what was once Art Bears (3 superb albums) - similarities to the Bears you will find, but more differences. Multi- instrumentalist virtuoso Fred Frith has left the fold so it seems a name change was in order. Still on board are Chris Cutler, Dagmar Krause, Lindsay Cooper and a new member, the wonderful Zeena Parkins playing Harp (the stringed kind!) along with guests Phil Minton and Georgie Born. The addition of the Harp makes for some exciting listening, especially when applied to the RIO formula. Odd sounds, time sigs, even some ambience, and Dagmar's unique voice are all present, highlights being Klein's Bottle and Arcades (of Glass) with some truly awesome Harp playing and angular rhythms. I've always found Phil Minton's voice a little over-bearing, but it's minimal - just another facet of their sound. Not your usual prog-rock ; hard to recommend it to sympho-maniacs, neo's and harder edged proggers (personally, I am all of these, so it may appeal), but those who go for something really special, well, it should work for you. 5 stars, as there's nothing I've heard that sounds like it, and, it's from 1984. The 80's wasn't such a bad time for adventurous music after-all.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#61561)
Posted Saturday, December 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars NFB can be consider as Henry Cow Mk4, Slapp Happy Mk3 or Art Bears Mk2, as the continuation between the projects is rather obvious and even constant. Taking off where Art Bears left off, the appearance of Bostonian Zeena Parkins has changed the musical bents as well. With the debut album SAS/WROTT (made from two chapters), Dagmar Krause's voice is a strong reminder and link to art Bears but inevitable Slapp Happy as well. In the second album, Letters Home, Robert Wyatt takes the main vocals duties and is doubled by Sally Potter. But of course this project is yet another spin-off from Henry Cow's wind and keys mistress Lindsey Cooper (the lone composer) and percussion master Chris Cutler (the lyricist). The music is severe yet playful, cacophonous but also unexpectedly sensuous at times, abusing unusual chord progressions and odd-time signatures, shrieky vocal squeals to make haunting chamber music, nicely complemented by Zeena Parkin's harp.

The first part of the album, Sirens And Silences, is relatively difficult of access as NFB develops a somber chamber rock (not too far from Univers Zero) where unusual bassoon and sax-playing along with sometimes dissonant harp are setting the mood as cold and rigid and an almost-medieval tinge, reinforced by the mostly-acoustic instruments. Krause's vocals are not really helping either (especially given Cutler's strongly aware lyrics), as I was never a fan of her timbre as well as the type of singing she chooses. Work Resumed On The Tower is a much better (and more riveting) piece, with a wider musical scope and often brinks on the dissonant, while never really overstepping the borderline. Arcades Of Glass (incredible tension from the harp) and Anno Mirabilis (some finally exciting singing and its extreme sax wind-extracting as background) while Victory uses some greater musical dynamics as they enter Eastern European gypsy folk. This debut album ends much better than it started.

The ReR label has reissued both albums in a 2 on 1 retrospective, gave it illustrations (intriguing and appropriate drawings for the debut and haunting photos for the second) makes it the obvious acquisition. Please read the individual album reviews to get fuller impressions.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#122628)
Posted Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars After Slapp Happy and Henry Cow dissipated, and after the refugees' first safe harbour in Art Bears had run its course, Dagmar Krause, Chris Cutler, and Lindsay Cooper brought in glorious harpist Zeena Parkins to craft News From Babel. Although the material here is challenging, I find it a pleasant blend of the approach of latter-day Henry Cow and Slapp Happy - you have the Cow's incessant need to experiment counterbalanced by Slapp Happy's uncanny ability to make even the strangest compositions immediately welcoming and accessible. The end result is a RIO album which isn't weird for weird's sake, but instead is one of the hidden unsung gems of the subgenre; the interplay of Cooper's reed instruments and Parkins' harp is a particular treat.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#990772)
Posted Tuesday, July 02, 2013 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars NEWS FROM BABEL was a short lived group emerging in the early 80s when the great drought of prog music was tempted by the pop side of music leaving scant few strange musical entities daring to create such bizarre music in the avant prog arena. Of course this group contained members from RIO / avant prog veterans Henry Cow and the Art Bears. After the demise of both these groups was the third installment of that sound and it made its debut on SIRENS AND SILENCES / WORK RESUMED ON THE TOWER. The two titles actually stand for two suites that originally took up one side each on the vinyl LP. On the newer CD versions it isn't so clear where one ends and the other begins but it is all strange and interesting at the same time. The music like the predecessors takes the dissonance and chamber music sounds of Henry Cow but NEWS FROM BABEL adds a little cabaret sound to the mix.

Lindsay Cooper really brings the Art Bears sound to this group lending a strong resemblance to her former group, however the real difference between this group and those that spawned this brand of avant prog is that while in Henry Cow and Art Bears the instruments and vocals seemed to be juxtaposed as to create the most alienating effect possible, in NEWS FROM BABEL the group succeeds in finding a balance between these avant-garde elements and an accessible catchiness not usually associated with this type of avant-rock. The tracks are very strange and bizarre but at the same time have an underlying playfulness and giddiness to them that make them a real pleasant listening experience. This probably comes from the influence of Dagmar Krause and Chris Cutler who spent time in one of the greatest progressive pop bands ever, Slapp Happy. The seductive harp of Zeena Parkins also plays a role in smoothing the whole thing out. But have no fear, if you want strange music, this is the real thing. I'm quite surprised this isn't more known as it really is one of the more accessible albums I have heard in this subgenre and an excellent place to start out in the strange world of avant-prog.

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Send comments to siLLy puPPy (BETA) | Report this review (#1213747)
Posted Monday, July 14, 2014 | Review Permalink

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