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Art Bears - Hopes and Fears CD (album) cover


Art Bears



3.77 | 96 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars Both Henry Cow and Slapp Happy were instrumental in generating some of the most avant-rock and -pop of the early 70s so it wasn't too shocking when the two bands merged to collaborate on the final Henry Cow album "In Praise of Learning" in 1975. While Henry Cow would reemerge one more time in 1979 to settle unfinished business with the best album of their career in the form of "Western Culture," Slapp Happy on the other hand decided to call it a day but the cross-pollination of the two bands never ceased to be. In between the reunion of Henry Cow and the collaborative efforts with Slapp Happy, a new group emerged to pick up the avant- slack of where Henry Cow left off.

This new band was called ART BEARS and the debut album HOPE AND FEARS was supposed to be the fourth Henry Cow album but morphed into this new project because that's what avant-garde artists do! ART BEARS was basically the continuation of the Henry Cow Rock In Opposition movement by three members: Chris Cutler (percussion, texts), Fred Frith (guitars, bass, violin, keyboards) and Dagmar Krause (vocals), however also joining this Henry Cow album by another name on select tracks were former members Tim Hodgkinson (organ, clarinet, piano), Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, oboe, soprano, recorder) and Georgie Born (bass, cello and vocals). This insinuates that all was amicable in the Henry Cow universe and in effect ART BEARS was constructed as an outside project in order for the members to contemplate their next moves.

Despite being considered the lost Henry Cow album with Slapp Happy's Dagmar Krause sticking around on vocals, ART BEARS is a different beast although existing in the extended Henry Cow family. Viewed with clearer vision, ART BEARS actually picks up where "In Praise of Learning" left off but more perfectly stewed into a musical gumbo that keeps the avant-prog aspects of Henry Cow completely in the inaccessosphere while incorporating the more accessible aspects of the avant-pop of the vocal led charm of Slapp Happy, therefore the accusations that this actually was a Henry Cow album in disguise rings quite true and what better way to integrate two completely different philosophies into one than by a name change? Well, nomenclature nitpicking aside, HOPES AND FEARS pretty much does indeed carry on the Henry Cow missed album approach in perfect form.

Perhaps what ART BEARS achieved more than the Henry Cow predecessors is that the album sounds extremely focused. While the political lyrics are fruitfully abundant, the music is simultaneously very escapist without being alienating NOT that it's a bad thing but ART BEARS created a slightly less abrasive and more accessible style of avant-prog which would only be perfect upon by the future News From Babel. Added to the interesting mix of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy is a forward look into new possibilities with the stringent underpinnings of the newly fashionable post-punk sounds. The most evident of tracks existing on "The Tube" but clearly ART BEARS had their fingers on the pulse of the new punk rock movement and how it was quickly splintering into different strains of avant-art rock.

Tracks like "The Dance" clearly demonstrate as Celtic folk dances emerge that ART BEARS were clever masters of disguise. They could take more conventional musical forms and twist them into their own avant-garde illusory presentations, a talent reserved for only the cleverest of sonic linguists but a clear attribute of Henry Cow transmogrified into this new extension of its visions. Overall ART BEARS dished out a veritable upgrade of the Slapp Happy / Henry Cow collaboration and did it in a uniform presentation. The whole thing sort of comes of as an alternative dimension version of vocal jazz of the 1940s so it has the ability to connect to the familiar while bedazzling the listener with the absurdly unfamiliar. ART BEARS' debut HOPES AND FEARS is a real gem in the late 70s avant-prog world as not only did it prove as progressive rock was declining in popularity that experimental progressive music was in no danger of dying out but that it was evolving into ever weirder realities.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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