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Art Bears Hopes and Fears album cover
3.79 | 111 ratings | 12 reviews | 23% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1978

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. On Suicide (1:26)
2. The Dividing Line (4:13)
3. Joan (3:07)
4. Maze (5:15)
5. In Two Minds (8:35)
6. Terrain (3:54)
7. The Tube (3:02)
8. The Dance (5:08)
9. The Pirate Song (1:10)
10. Labyrinth (2:20)
11. Riddle (2:50)
12. Moeris, dancing (5:20)
13. Piers (2:10)

Total Time: 48:30

Bonus tracks on 1992 CD re-issue
14. Collapse (4:03)
15. All Hail! (4:48)
16. Coda to Man and Boy (7:12)

Line-up / Musicians

- Fred Frith / guitars, violin, viola, piano, harmonium, xylophone, bass
- Chris Cutler / drums, electric drums, percussives, noise
- Dagmar Krause / singing

Guest musicians:
- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder
- Tim Hodgkinson / organ, clarinet, piano
- Georgie Born / bass, cello, voice

Releases information

Random Radar # Re 2188
1992 re-issue

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Cesar Inca for the last updates
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ART BEARS Hopes and Fears ratings distribution

(111 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(23%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(49%)
Good, but non-essential (22%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)

ART BEARS Hopes and Fears reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3,5 stars really!!!

Sonically speaking, you couldn't really tell if you're a Henry Cow album or on an Art Bears record. Especially given that behind Fred, Chris and Dagmar, are invited Lindsay, Tim, Georgie, Peter and Marc Hollander (Aksak). Hey!! 8O They forgot to invite Geoff Leigh. Behind the superb artwork (changed a bit from the original vinyl) and splendid ReR label booklet, Hope And Fear is definitely HC's heir, although slightly stripped down (Frith is the main composer here), as the other half of HC is only here as guests, even if they appear on most tracks, including the three bonus tracks from the ReR Cd reissue. Actually part of the tracks of this album were recorded under the Henry Cow banner. As for the rest of them, I will cite Chris Cutler: "These pieces were recorded track by track, starting with a click and the essential bass or chord parts and then adding vocals and filling in the other parts - using the studio itself as a generative medium. In general, drums were added last. This was to be the method we adopted for all future Art Bears projects". Considering most bands starts with drums, you might understand how weird or odd Art Bears may sound.

As said above the songwriting is handled mainly by Frith, and Cutler's lyrics, there is a real continuity between IPOL (rather than WC, even if WC came from the same sessions) and H&F, even if Dagmar's crazed vocals are toned down (all things remaining relative, because she remains an acquired taste), but Frith's guitar is getting wider spaces than previously as indicated by the Fripp-ian lines Terrain that followed the unusually accessible (and incredibly wild "rock") In Two Minds, these two forming a first highlight into the album. Frith's guitars are also able to be gloomy as heck in The Tube. However if you want to know how HC handles a jig, please feel free to listen to The Dance. While keeping on track with its own direction, the rest of the album slowly veers towards Piers, which is arranged in such a way that it announces what's coming up in Winter Songs. But this album could be called a lost HC album somewhere between In Praise and Western Culture, it you didn't know better.

The bonus tracks are actually adding value to an already good album and fit moderately well with H&F, especially the closing Coda piece where Blegvad and Hollander come in to add their lunacy). But first we must deal with the astounding madness of All Hail and the beat-heavy Collapse where Dagmar double tracks and dubs herself. Amazing sounds. But the real "gift" is the lengthy Coda To Man And Bo, where the tension on frith's guitar strings is so unbearable that the guitar is starting to jerk tears uncontrollable and soon enough its crying out loud over a divine three note piano and semi-thunder bass crashes (courtesy of Peter and Marc). Astounding sounds. With the addition of these bonus tracks, I can't help but give this album its fourth star, even if it Art Bear's least resembling album, in part due to the presence of almost all of Henry Cow's personel.

Review by Alucard
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 'Hopes & Fears' was recorded in 1978 and is the first record of the 'Art Bears', a band freshly created out of former Henry Cow members, Fred Frith ( who signed for the majority of the compostions), Chris Cutler (drums and lyrics) and Dagmar Krause on vocals.The other 'Henry Cow' members Georgie Born, Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson are mentionned as guests.

There are obviously a lot of common points between the music of 'Henry Cow' and 'The Art Bears', the political-philosophical lyrics, the abstract compositions mixed with Jazz or Free-Jazz improvisations, but on the whole 'H & F' is a more stripped down affair, the songs a shorter and more focused. Most lyrics are realistic or pessimistic, depending on your point of view. The overall concept is stated in the booklett, a citation of Lucian's 'Satirical sketches' a dialogue between Charon and Hermes - Charon : "All I can see is complicated muddle - a world full of utter confusion. Their towns are like beehives in which every bee has a sting of his own and uses it against his neighbor - and some are like wasps, preying on the weaker memmbers of the community. But what are those dim shapes flying around them?" Hermes :"Hopes and fears Charon..."

Singer Dagmar Krause is strongly influenced by the German composer Hans Eisler (and his coorporation with poet-playwriter Berthold Brecht) and his wife Lotte Lenya , who had developpeed a form of 'realistic' opera singing ('Dreigroschenoper) The opening track of the record 'On suicide' is a Brecht/Eisler song. Krause's vocal style together with Frith's compositions creates often a dense and sometimes claustrophobic athmosphere like in 'Maze' or 'Riddle'. Sometimes the athmosphere reminds me the japonese 'No' theatre pieces.'The Dividing line' a Cooper composition and 'Pirate Song' and 'Labyrinth' two Hodgkinson compositions go in the same direction. The two Frith instrumentals 'Terrain' and 'Moeris Dancing' are strongly influenced by Zappa in particuler 'Uncle Meat' and the more 'lighthearted' tracks of the record. A masterpiece that needs time to be dicoverd!

Review by Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Art Bears' debut album emerged from the same sessions that produced the brilliant Henry Cow album Western Culture, and indeed the remaining members of the last Henry Cow line up are present as guest musicians and occasional co-writers. The album was, and remains, a remarkable achievement, and had a phenomenal impact when it was first released, but with hindsight it was the first step towards an artistic vision that would only be fully realised on subsequent albums.

A number of common elements recurred throughout Art Bears discography: Chris Cutler's lyrics were indebted to Brecht and informed by an interest in the middle ages, mythology and left wing politics; Frith's music reflected his interest in assorted arcane folk traditions, which would also influence his solo career; and Dagmar interpreted their vision like an updated Lotte Lenya. The move towards relatively normal songs took some people by surprise, but on his website Cutler stresses that he and Frith had both started out in straightforward rock groups, so the desire to play short songs had always been there.

The album opens with a short version of the Brecht/Eisler song On Suicide, which Dagmar declaims over a stark cello/bassoon/clarinet arrangement. This lasts for less than 2 minutes, but effectively sets the stage for the band's subsequent career. The Dividing Line brings in the full band and a theme that is to recur throughout the album (it originated from the backing track of the Cooper composition Riddle being played at half speed) and is another sparse, Brechtian song. Joan is introduced by a searing Frith electric guitar motif and retells the story of Joan of Arc, and is one of the pieces which would not have sounded out of place on a Henry Cow album. The most remarkable song closed side 1 of the vinyl original, and at over 8 minutes long In 2 Minds was the longest track Art Bears recorded. The lyrics were inspired by Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing's book Sanity, Madness and the Family and the music alternates between a slowly strummed and slightly out of tune acoustic guitar and a rock out which recalls The Who - it's midway between Pinball Wizard and Won't Get Fooled Again, and all the more effective for being so unexpected.

The second half of the album continues in a similar vein, including two uptempo instrumental tracks (to be strictly accurate, one contains a wordless vocal by Dagmar) which would sit nicely on the Frith solo albums Gravity or Speechless - hummable, danceable but still 100% Rock In Opposition. Some of the lengthy instrumental breaks also sound like a RIO take on traditional country dancing tunes, such as the lengthy coda to The Dance - Frith playing a mournful jig over Cutler's strict tempo snare and bass drum, with Dagmar slowly chanting a counter melody in the background. Elsewhere, The Pirate Song is sung to an imaginative piano accompinament played and composed by Tim Hodgkinson, while the subsequent Labyrinth (Daedalus Lamenting) pushes Cutler's hyperactive drumming to the fore. The album closes with a brief piece about the Medieaval English poem Piers the Ploughman, with an arrangement which recalls On Suicide and which also points to the direction of Winter Songs, their next album.

Compared with what was to follow, Hopes and Fears is something of a flawed gem. There are pieces which sound more like Henry Cow or Frith solo, and the presence of additional musicians makes some of the arrangements sound comparatively cluttered (all future Art Bears releases featured only the core trio). Taken in isolation, it's one of the key albums of the Rock In Opposition movement and shows that, although Henry Cow had ground to a halt, the key members were only just beginning to realise their potential as composers and performers. Highly recommended.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars This is one of the most difficult albums to listen to in my collection. And that is not a bad thing. Sometimes music should challenge the ear. While I'm not much of a fan of Dagmar Kraus (I find her vocals usually detract from the music she is singing with), I can still enjoy the underlying music. Most of the time. There is a bit too much of Kraus' Lotte Lenya impression with only guitar behind it for my taste. It is when the musicians play together that this album shines.

Just remember, pleasant sounds is not what rock in opposition is about.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars An excellent album that should not be heard by everyone and especially not on every occasion!

The debut album from Art Bears is merely a continuation of the already well established Henry Cow sound. The story goes like this - Hopes And Fears began as a Henry Cow album but the early sessions in Switzerland split the band due to some members dislike for a vast amount of song-oriented material. A compromise was reached when the members agreed upon splitting the material into two different releases. The song-oriented material was released under a new moniker, Art Bears, while the instrumental compositions would make up the final Henry Cow studio album.

This basically means that Hopes And Fears is as close to a Henry Cow record as one could ever get. Besides the fact that the band was comprised of Chris Cutler, Fred Frith and Dagmar Krause, we also get noteworthy contributions from Tim Hodgkinson, Lindsay Cooper and Georgie Born. The music is dominated by Dagmar Krause's haunting vocals and the instrumental arrangements which often remind me of the Residents due to their minimalistic approach that exists all throughout the album.

The most notable track out of this very mixed bunch comes right towards the end of side one with the 8+ minute thought-provoking suite called In Two Minds. It's difficult for me to understand how such a long composition can be almost entirely built around one chord but Art Bears completely nail that format and show that excellent music can come in all shapes and forms. Plus, the Pete Townshend-sounding guitar chords towards the chorus turn this tune into a complete masterpiece for me!

In Two Minds is an easy album to get into for beginners but it will take a while for it to expand beyond those initial stages of excitement and right into the excellent album I consider it today. There are definitely certain mood requirements for these kind of releases which make it strenuous to hear in passive receptive state. This is a perfect example of an active-listening album experience that should be an obligatory part of any Avant-Prog music collection!

***** star songs: In Two Minds (8:35) The Dance (5:08) The Pirate Song (1:10)

**** star songs: On Suicide (1:26) The Dividing Line (4:13) Joan (3:07) Maze (5:15) Terrain (3:54) The Tube (3:02) Labyrinth (2:20) Riddle (2:50) Moeris, Dancing (5:20) Piers (2:10)

Review by admireArt
3 stars What can I say about this record? The setting is perfect; the intention is clear (or in this case obscure); the whereabouts are well known; the where? is the mystery. I had to suffer like hell to overcome the horrible "arty" voice of Dagmar Krauze to enjoy the astounding environment this guys had painted. One perfect case of first image association with later criteria. The voice-less/music; as the art-cover is austere, dimmly lit promising all kinds of thrills that in time will be delivered. So;. it is hard to review an astounding musical effort when one of its elements is organically rejected by my own body and the other half not... ( That is one of the main reasons I turned towards electronic-prog; they rarely sing over there; less have Main Vocalist!) Art Bears: "Hopes and Fears" is the perfect 4 Star album for people who are not pissed off with this kind of impossing type of singing; and also like early obscure post-Henry Cow; Frith. Hodgson or Cutler efforts. I wish I was one! But I canīt!....If you have a karaoke player 3.5; if you are like me; 3... towards; "how would it have sounded in an only instrumental environment?..... Great!; I, suppose. Not being the case... 3 bottom stars.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Just as Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning is part of a symbiotic pair with the more Slapp Happy-focused Desperate Straights, so too is the first Art Bears album a symbiote with Henry Cow's Western Culture.

Specifically, during the recording sessions for a followup to In Praise of Learning, it was clear that the band members no longer saw eye to eye, with some wanting to refine their complex instrumental work whilst others wanted to apply their avant-garde techniques to song-oriented material. The instrumentals were tinkered with further and eventually emerged as Western Culture; the songs were bequeathed to the Art Bears as a sort of inheritance and came out as Hopes and Fears.

For my part, whilst I consider Western Culture to be the pinnacle of Henry Cow's accomplishments, I think Hopes and Fears is equally good, so I'm glad the band decided to develop in both directions even if it led to the disintegration of the Cow as a single unit. Opening with a little Brecht (On Suicide), the Bears reveal themselves to have excellent instincts when it comes to refining the abrasive avant-garde ideas developed by Henry Cow into the basis for songs, and there's more melody here too.

I feel that Henry Cow often spent too much time being weird for weird's sake, often going so far as to deliberately shun anything melodic or attractive or approachable as compromising their vision (this tendency seemed to reach its peak on In Praise of Learning), whereas the Art Bears see no reason to limit the tools available to them, taking the best of the avant-garde and the mainstream alike. Ultimately, this results in pieces which are at once more accessible than Henry Cow's work yet, at the same time, also manage to be just as revolutionary in their own way.

Review by ALotOfBottle
4 stars Despite being labeled as an Art Bears album, Hopes and Fears was recorded mostly by Henry Cow. While working on what would turn out to be their swansong, Western Culture, the group witnessed a disagreement between its members. Lindsay Cooper, Georgie Born, and Tim Hodgkinson expressed that shorter vocal pieces are not representative of the band. The opposing fraction, consisting of Dagmar Krause, Fred Frith, and Chris Cutler, rented a studio with their own money, in which they recorded four tracks under the ambiguous signature of Art Bears. As a result, instrumental pieces recorded by Henry Cow, appeared on their album Western Culture, while the vocal material made it to Hopes and Fears.

Whilst Henry Cow's style is largely improvisation-based, the songs on Art Bears' debut album are far more organized and naturally shorter. The trio seeks inspiration from ancient works, in fact the release derives its title from a dialogue in Charion Sees Life, a satirical sketch by a Roman rhetorician and satirist Lucian of Samosata. Furthermore, the omnipresent eccentricity, reminiscent of Greek opera, plays an important role in the album's distinctive sound. Jazz methods are almost fully absent from Art Bears' style. Instead, the band focuses on the more song-oriented approach, which makes it easier for them to deliver their message. Neo-classical chamber music of Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Schoenberg has become a crucial element of Bears' music. A careful listener will detect influences of Eastern European folk traditions. Similarly to Henry Cow's works, Hopes And Fears is dripping with complex and intricate arrangements. Eclectic ideas, rich and elaborate musical layers, experimental musicianship, politically-charged lyrics, odd time signatures - the basic Cow ingredients are all there. And yet, the album sounds different than anything Henry Cow have produced. One might point out that comparison with Henry Cow's works is aimless, as the album was composed and recorded by the group's members. Let's not forget, however, that it was because of Frith's and Cutler's new concepts that the material from the Western Culture sessions was released on two separate albums.

Hopes and Fears opens with a cover of "On Suicide", a piece originally written by a neo-classical composer Hans Eisler, with Chris Cutler's lyrics. "The Dividing Line" starts out with an unsettling and sinister passage on Tim Hodgkinson's Farfisa organ. The track's initial mood remains present until the next song. "In Two Minds" begins with a catchy feminine folk motif, which dissolves into a more pop-sounding theme, which suggests the influence of The Who. In fact, Chris Cutler once remarked the impact that the band had on him and his contemporaries. "The Dance" owes a great deal to Eastern European folk traditions, with the interplay of Georgie Born's cello, Fred Frith's violin, and Lindsay Cooper's bassoon. "Riddle" revisits the familiar ominous passage, that first appeared on "The Dividing Line", with a similar feel that is again dark and disturbing. The album closes with "Piers", which has a menacing, and an almost ambient quality.

Art Bears' innovative, thought-provoking, and groundbreaking debut album marks a beginning of a new era for Rock In Opposition - post-Henry Cow, dark, sophisticated, and highly influenced by chamber music. Hopes and Fears is a difficult work of art that takes many listens to fully understand and comprehend. Complex, dark, demanding, fresh - these are just a few adjectives which perfectly describe the album. Recommended!

Review by 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.

Review by DangHeck
4 stars Dark, Brooding Minimalism Wages War with Joyful and Optimistic Glee

So excited to be here today! Long time coming, this'n! Art Bears is an offshoot project of three members of Avant-Rock masters Henry Cow: Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause (she also of Slapp Happy). Members from these two former bands are also featured throughout in the form of Tim Hodgkinson, Lindsay Cooper, George Born (a name I was frankly unfamiliar with) and (on other editions with bonus tracks) Peter Blegvad.

Our albums starts off in melancholy on the brief "On Suicide". Very dark, sort of classical in nature (no surprise there). It was composed by German film duo Brecht and Eisler. Starkly positioned next is "The Dividing Line", beginning with noise and clangs and a bizarro, deeply effected organ. The vocals are angular, yet not harsh. This is a rather minimal song ultimately. It's here that I take pause to remember this was released in 1978. Much like the relation that Greaves' Kew. Rhone. had for me to that year before. Up next is something more identifiably them and... more exciting really! "Joan"! The organ and the horns are in a cacophony with the drums and Dagmar's relatively sweet vocals (sweet in comparison haha). Very intense.

What follows is... quiet, but with darting reverberating Cutler-isms on "Maze". I quite like this. I can't not compare it to Frank Zappa. Angular, strange, weirdly haunting. The digital version of this track I have unusually cuts short of its full length... Too bad. Regardless. Through and through the whole of the track, though, I really can't help but think of the darkest and weirdest from, say, Uncle Meat. Very cool. Not much happens, in comparison, on the front-end of "In Two Minds". Dagmar sings over strums of acoustic guitar. Nearing halfway, all picks up with fun drums. It's like deranged Pete Townsend in my mind hahaha! Even so, acoustic guitar is the driving force. I'll always take Fred Frith in whatever mode he'll give. Things fall back down and then return to the aforementioned full-band triumph after minute 6. I think this is a song that will require patience from some. It's really quite rewarding in its overall minimalism.

In an unexpected way, what I would like to call these Uncle Meat-isms continue on the very fun, upbeat "Terrain". This is the absolute highlight thus far. Horns and strings intersect with the really lovely guitar soloing from Frith. This is followed by further minimalisms, but also just really interesting noise on "The Tube". Definitely some cool soundscape type stuff here. The past is back in more strange forms in "The Dance". And I'll take a moment to pause and sing the praises of the great Lindsay Cooper, here on bassoon (of course?). Dagmar is also using her higher vocal register here, and I love that. The middle section features some pastoral fiddling from Fred, too! Just an interesting mix of everything. Up next is the also brief "Pirate Song" with a great vocal performance over acoustic piano. Different kind of loveliness compared to the track before.

Continuing right along, we have "Labyrinth" with really unique percussion elements. I can't tell if they're electric or just... really far away haha. Either way, sounds just awesome. Another track though, percussion aside, that is ultimately super minimal and singularly focused. Synth has returned on "Riddle", featuring an eerie drone and just awesomely weird key-sh*t haha. This track is about as alien as something you might expect from Magma. Tribal and intense. Even so, can't say I've heard much quite like it before. So much to be satisfied by here. Then it's onto something that indeed is (though inexplicably) familiar! "Moeris Dancing" bounces along in joy and yet simultaneous intensity. I may take a stab at it and say this is something Eastern, generally speaking. I love the handclaps and the violin here. And then the guitar melody around minute 2... which is just plain epic! Awesome thematic music! Another surefire highlight if there ever was one. And then finally we have our closer, "Piers". This song starts with an ambient drone. This then continues throughout the whole track. Truly haunting. Helluva way to close it all out.

Review by VianaProghead
4 stars Review Nš 547

At the turn of the 60's, two English students of Cambridge, Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson formed the core of Henry Cow, a band who over the course of ten years pretty much bucked every stale tradition of rock, creating their own way, a Baroque inflected free jazz soaked cacophony which they refined to a method dubbed Rock In Opposition (RIO), by way of several communal traipses across Europa. The general idea was to create an independent network of like minded performers that would not be dependent on the largesse of the major record companies for their own survival.

So, in the 70's, the collaborative spirit seemed to have swept through the British progressive art rock scene. Countless performers commingled on each other's albums and, in a variety of configurations, they explored similar sonic territory. This spirit of creative collaboration was most highly concentrated around the virtually unclassifiable music of one of the most iconic bands, Henry Cow. Serving as the nexus of a wildly experimental scene and seeing a virtual who's who of the avant-garde wing of the British art rock, Henry Cow's influence and ideals spread quickly during the decade in which they existed, each member popping up here and there on other artists' albums before striking out on their own.

During the ten years of existence, 1968-78, Henry Cow released four studio albums. During the recording of their final album "Western Culture", the band split down the middle, with Hodgkinson wanting to continue down the increasingly oblique path their music had been careening down, and Frith wanting to perform more "song-oriented" fare. In a fashion unusually amicable and diplomatic, Frith split off with the percussionist Chris Cutler, to finish recording the material they had prepared for "Western Culture" but which didn't make part of the final version. Cutler wrote lyrics, and their recently bandless acquaintance Dagmar Krause, who already worked with them, stepped up to work with both.

So, the drummer Chris Cutler and the guitarist Fred Frith were core members of Henry Cow, who had collaborated with German singer Dagmar Krause's band, Slapp Happy, on a pair of albums in the mid of the 70's. Krause brought a highly distinctive vocal presence to the band, one both wildly idiosyncratic, witness her various shrieks, growls and unclassifiable utterances throughout the Art Bears catalog, and schooled in traditional European art songs, particularly those of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht. With her voice and phrasing, she managed to single handedly unify lengthy works that might have otherwise lapsed into typically arch, classically structured Henry Cow pieces. When Krause joined the band on a permanent basis, it was natural that they should gravitate towards something more like "songs".

The musicians who would become Art Bears began recording their first album, "Hopes And Fears", before the band even formally existed. In 1978, Cutler, Frith, Krause, Georgie Born, Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson went to Switzerland with the intent to cut the fifth Henry Cow album at Etienne Conod's Sunrise Studio. However, when it became apparent that Cutler's shorter songs, along with Krause's vocals, weren't going to result in anything resembling a Henry Cow album, Cutler, Frith and Krause decided to rename themselves Art Bears, and with the others, agreed to record different, instrumental pieces for what would become Henry Cow's final album, "Western Culture".

The duo wrote 13 succinct, arguably more tuneful songs all based loosely on carvings which adorn the walls of the Amiens cathedral in France. This is really a very dense, challenging and tough album to crack. It's supposed to be. But with repeated listenings, its brilliance will begin to take shape, an angular swan which slowly carves itself out of the ice of initial distaste. Brilliance and genius, all too apparent in Frith's shapeshifting guitars and stark arrangements and the panoply of diverse percurssions and noises of Cutler and his oblique, preternatural lyrics, delivered supernaturally by the voice of Dagmar Krause. It's the confounding voice of crestfallen strength, desperate and seemingly tuneless, yet never missing a note. It's stark in the greatest German tradition, but unlike much less talented and yet far more namedropped "anti-singers" like Nico, this is a voice strained and cold via too much emotion, rather than devoid of it.

Conclusion: The music on "Hopes And Fears" is strange, dark and aggressive. Sometimes reminds me of something close to Van Der Graaf Generator, but even more experimental. Firth's guitar sounds are twisted and unpredictable, and Cutler's drumming focuses on a more simplistic, but at the same time forceful side, rather than his disorienting, polyrhythmic playing in Henry Cow. On "Hopes And Fears" there are mostly regular length songs, with Krause's falsetto vocals at the center. I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of her singing, although she is a nice addition to the music on the album. The music of Art Bears sounds almost as ahead of the curve today as it did so many years ago. The sophistication and beauty of their music is far above of most other song based bands of the last few decades. Art Bears was at the pinnacle of the European songwriting. Unfortunately, they aren't simply understood by most people.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Latest members reviews

5 stars Really, there's not much more to say that other reviewers haven't said already. But, mainly out of love for the genre, this is the second shift in this great revolving doorway that came out of Henry Cow. I, for one, enjoy this even more as it is so much focus on composition, and by god, Dagmar ... (read more)

Report this review (#232571) | Posted by tmay102436 | Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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