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NEWS FROM BABEL

RIO/Avant-Prog • United States


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News From Babel biography
Not exactly a band in the traditional sense, NEWS FROM BABEL were a studio project that combined the talents of woodwin player Lindsay Cooper (HENRY COW), American harpist Zeena Parkins, and drummer Chris Cutler as well as vocalist Dagmar Krause (both from ART BEARS). Being direct descendants of these RIO bands, their style is very much 'out there' although not as wild or intense. Coming together after HENRY COW's dissolution in 1978, the foursome released a couple of albums and then broke up in 1986.

Very much in the RIO tradition, both albums are filled with energetic and playful cacophony, unusual chord progressions, odd-time signatures (where drummer Cutler's distinctive style shines), vocal squeals and shrieks, but also unexpected sensuous and fluid passages that take on chamber music-like tones, all nicely complemented by Zeena Parkin's harp. Their first release, "Sirens and Silences/Work Resumed on the Tower", features guest Phil Minton whose unusual voice goes hand in hand with the radical/political nature of the lyrics. On their second album, "Letters Home", Robert Wyatt handles most of the vocals with the occasional contribution by Minton, Dagmar Krause and newcomer Sally Potter. All music was written by Cooper, all lyrics by Cutler.

Their type of RIO could appeal to a wider audience but the ones most likely to appreciate are fans of HENRY COW and especially ART BEARS.

: : : Lise (HIBOU), CANADA : : :

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Sirens and Silence / Work Resumed on the Tower / Letters Home / ContrariesSirens and Silence / Work Resumed on the Tower / Letters Home / Contraries
Box set · Remastered
ReR Megacorp 2008
Audio CD$25.39
$24.99 (used)
Letters HomeLetters Home
Import · Remastered
Rer 2007
Audio CD$9.81
$13.00 (used)
Sirens & Silences//Work Resumed on the TowerSirens & Silences//Work Resumed on the Tower
Import · Remastered
Rer 2007
Audio CD$9.81
$9.99 (used)
For tomorrow / Vinyl Maxi Single [Vinyl 12'']For tomorrow / Vinyl Maxi Single [Vinyl 12'']
RE
Vinyl$11.43 (used)
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NEWS FROM BABEL shows & tickets


  • Henry Cow, Music For Films, News From Babel and Oh Moscow play the music of Lindsay Cooper on 21 Nov 2014
  • Henry Cow, Music For Films, News From Babel and Oh Moscow play the music of Lindsay Cooper on 22 Nov 2014

NEWS FROM BABEL discography


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NEWS FROM BABEL top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.50 | 30 ratings
Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower
1983
4.52 | 20 ratings
Letters Home
1986

NEWS FROM BABEL Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

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NEWS FROM BABEL Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.19 | 17 ratings
Sirens & Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower/Letters Home
1990

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NEWS FROM BABEL Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1983
4.50 | 30 ratings

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Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy

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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 Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1986
4.52 | 20 ratings

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Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by admireArt

5 stars NEWS FROM BABEL's, "Letters Home", besides counting with an astounding ensemble of well established RIO musicians (Robert Wyatt, Dagmar Krause, Sally Potter,Tim Hodgkinson, Chris Cutler) among newer names, holds the best spirit and humour of the genre and adds up real glimpses at other non-RIO strictly music, without any kind of excessiveness this genre is exposed to.

From their first album, I got the impression, IMO of course, that every time I listened to Henry Cow, I was really expecting this kind of music. "Letters Home", is as good as their first project. It is, even though the nostalgic concept, very humourous without being forceful or pretentious.

Musical composer Lindsay Cooper (1951-2013) has to be noted as one of this genres legends. Her fresh approach to the now very cliched RIO alphabet, were both original and brilliant. She nurtured from a diverse number of styles and scopes and transmuted those influences to work for her music and become eventually new "letters" in this RiO/av genre's language. (Chris Cutler pen-writes the lyrics).

The result of so many talents in the same room could have an easy run for extremes, something that never happens with this News from Babel band. They are more comfortable with the "less is more" motto when it comes to performance.

Impeccable effort, Lindsay Cooper's song-writing skills were and are oxygen, not only to the RIO/AG line of works, but to Prog music in general.

*****5 PA stars ( essential, even if you are not a close follower of this specific sub-genre. A masterpiece if you are a close follower of this band or the RiO/AV asthetiques.

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 Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1986
4.52 | 20 ratings

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Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

5 stars News From Babel may have released less material than any of their predecessor bands - Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, and even Art Bears all managed to be more prolific - but for my money, they have the highest and most consistent standards of the lot. This time around, Dagmar Krause shares the vocal duties with Sally Potter, Phil Minton, and very special guest star Robert Wyatt, and the different moods Krause and Wyatt in particular bring to the table really enhance proceedings. Musically, it's another case of Lindsay Cooper working magic on the wind instruments, Zeena Parkins delivering some excellent harp work, and Chris Cutler keeping the eccentric rhythms going on percussion. Along with its predecessor, a true classic of avant-garde prog.

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 Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1983
4.50 | 30 ratings

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Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by 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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 Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1986
4.52 | 20 ratings

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Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams

4 stars This is a unique album. First of all, the full length 12" LP plays at 45rpm. That gives it an extremely full sound (at least on my turntable). The music is quite reminiscent of The Art Bears and Henry Cow (no surprise there). And the songs are dominated by Lindsay Cooper's reeds. Zeena Parkins adds her harp and accordion, and fits in perfectly.

Vocals are performed by Robert Wyatt (who appears on five of the nine tracks), Dagmar Krause, Sally Potter and Phil Minton. The different singers add a variety of flavors to the album.

My favorite tracks are: the frenetic A Dragon At the Core, the dark (of course) Dark Matter and Waited/Justice with what I presume is Parkins' "prepared harp" adding bizarreness.

While this may be difficult to find, to any hard core RIO fan, it's worth the hunt.

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 Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1986
4.52 | 20 ratings

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Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by penguindf12
Prog Reviewer

5 stars This is such a wonderful album. The MOOD is what gets me. Song after song -- sobering melancholy. Woodwinds, brilliant drum work, and harp. The whole thing feels like winter, alone. A night before the fire in a wooden cabin at the world's end. Robert Wyatt's presence really helps.

"This life is bare and cold, and I am old and tired of truth," he sings. "Must we forever make our history in this cold country?" Nuclear snowflakes have already fallen. (Who Will Accuse).

"The Hearts of Stone" rocks a bit more, sounding a bit more like Art Bears. Some exotic-ish dance music also ekes in, along with klezmer & a bit of cabaret. Not as touching as the opener, but it'll do.

"Banknote" employs a Clavinet and features a new singer. "I nailed a banknote to a tree, but it did not nourish me..." Here a theme of environmental investigation begins, with the alienated individual searching the forest for meaning.

"Moss" continues this search. These are Chris Cutler's best lyrics. When Robert Wyatt sings "I was not deceived" like the most disappointed Man on Earth, you know that God is Dead. The outro features piano with harp accompaniment, bringing back memories of a childhood when things used to MATTER.

The subject matter changes completely on "Mass," a funky number featuring Clavinet bass lines and harp-plucking accompaniments. Bits of this song could work well as sampled hip-hop beats. The male singer sounds very cool, and the texts focus on one of Cutler's favorite "Science"-type subjects -- the Black Hole. The ending speed-up is excellent.

"Dark Matter" is a nifty waltz & another "Science" number. If it sounds a bit off-kilter, it's because the gravity was deflected by unseen forces. I like it.

Robert Wyatt appears again for "Waited," a return to the melancholic feel of the earlier tunes (no more "Science" for this album, ah!). It is a studied Dirge, interrupted at intervals for a flurry of percussion, melodic saxes, and other things. The ending takes its sweet time plodding along in true Dirge style.

"Fast Food" chronicles what I do every day for lunch, eating alone at Arby's, wearing headphones, and satisfied. I love these lyrics. The music is at first mysterious, becoming rock n' roll, then klezmer, and back again in a cycle.

The final song acts as the closer - soft and mysterious - mystical. Sadly, it's not that great -- the pace is very tentative, the lyrics are pretty overwrought, and it seems to wander aimlessly much of the time. But the finale seems to bring everything together as Dagmar's voice is replaced by Robert's. I don't know what it means -- but it sounds powerful.

This is definitely News from Babel's best album, the first being far too heavy-handed. Here, in a much more emotional landscape, their beauty flourishes.

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 Sirens & Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower/Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1990
4.19 | 17 ratings

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Sirens & Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower/Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by tmay102436

5 stars News From Babel. What an accomplishment! This review is really for both works, as they fit so nicely together. In fact, if you don't have the recently released "box set," it is worth every penny as the remastering is beautifully handled.

The thing about the entire family of Henry Cow, Art Bears, and the final statement here in this News From Babel, is that the music is so well "contained" and so very personal. The News From Babel works are small and tight, and every note is perfectly designed and executed. The music needs to exist and they conservatively give it to us.

With no real disrespect intended, as I absolutely love the direction that RIO has gone, but really, this and it's predecessors define this slice (which is quite different from the other RIO Masters from mainland Euro, UZ, Art Zoyd, etc....) of the Rock In Opposition pie.

I believe that Lindsay Cooper is one of the most talented artist to ever grace us with their music. Along with drum and lyric master Chris Cutler, the unbelievably talented Zena Parkins and the unique genius of the goddess Dagmar Krause, News From Babel made the final Henry Cow incarnation a perfect finale.

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 Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1986
4.52 | 20 ratings

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Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by tmay102436

5 stars Oh, I wasn't going to write anything for "Letters Home," as I already described the beauty of its existence in the previous review of the first offering from News From Babel. But as I listen to it, directly after "Sirens and Silences: Work Resumed on The Tower," I come to the conclusion that, although a perfect mate to its predecessor, it is an even more fully realized work.

The additional singers and players, mixed with the original four of Cooper, Cutler, Parkins, and Krause, make this so rich and (as I stated in the previous review) small and personal. Yet there is more power here. This slightly more powerful emotional music, mixed with the single notes being played and sang by different vocalist and by different instruments, combining to make uniquely voiced chord structures, make for an even more delicious expression of the original dream of News From Babel.

And yes, I believe that I am Babeling! But my goodness this is pure art.

I will state again, The English have given us so much diverse music, it is hard to imagine how it all happened. I for one, thank creation for this miracle of unique talent and hard work put into the musical art form.

OK, I can breathe now, and thanks for listening to My Babel!

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 Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1983
4.50 | 30 ratings

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Sirens And Silences/Work Resumed On The Tower
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by 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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 Letters Home by NEWS FROM BABEL album cover Studio Album, 1986
4.52 | 20 ratings

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Letters Home
News From Babel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by 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.

Some two years later, NFB recorded their second album, Letters Home in a relatively similar musical direction, but Robert Wyatt sang most of the songs, while Sally Potter took over the female voice. Indeed the album is more accessible partly due to Wyatt's voice, but altogether better songwriting and wilder imagination in their adventures. Jumpy and playful Heart Of Stone (my fave) and Banknote, a chilling Moss, a semi-ragtime, semi-swing Dragon At The Core, a great Waited, a tense Fast Food, and the glorious blood-curdling finale Late Evening

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