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News From Babel


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News From Babel Letters Home album cover
4.36 | 73 ratings | 7 reviews | 38% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Studio Album, released in 1986

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Who Will Accuse? (2:38)
2. Heart Of Stone (3:04)
3. Banknote (3:19)
4. Moss (3:58)
5. Dragon At The Core (4:39)
6. Dark Matter (4:20)
7. Waited/Justice (5:09)
8. Fast Food (3:13)
9. Late Evening (4:58)

Total Time: 35:18

Line-up / Musicians

- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, sopranino & alto saxes, piano, keyboards
- Zeena Parkins / electric & prepared harps, accordion, e-bow guitar (6)
- Chris Cutler / drums, electronics, percussion

- Robert Wyatt / vocals (1,2,4,7)
- Sally Potter / vocals (3,6)
- Phil Minton / vocals (5)
- Dagmar Krause / vocals (8,9)
- Bill Gilonis / bass, guitar

Releases information

Artwork: Maggie Thomas "EMT"

LP Rē Records ‎- Rē 1..14 (1986, UK)

CD ReR Megacorp ‎- ReR NFB2 (2006, UK) Different track running order

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy NEWS FROM BABEL Letters Home Music

NEWS FROM BABEL Letters Home ratings distribution

(73 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(38%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(38%)
Good, but non-essential (18%)
Collectors/fans only (1%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

NEWS FROM BABEL Letters Home reviews

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

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
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

Review by penguindf12
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.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury 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.

Review by Warthur
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.
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.

Composer & performer Lindsay Cooper (1951-2013) has to be noted as one of this genre´s 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 by the way).

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.

*****5 Masterpiece PA´s stars.

Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars The studio only project NEWS FROM BABEL's mission was to keep the avant-garde spirit of Henry Cow and Art Bears alive in the prog desert 80s and released two extraordinarily demanding albums starting with the debut "Sirens and Silences / Work Resumed on the Tower" on New Year's Day 1983 (although most sites cite 1984 as the correct year, the band lists 1983 on its own website) followed three years later by its second and last offering LETTERS HOME.

Once again this was primarily the workings of former Henry Cow members Lindsay Cooper who composed the music and Chris Cutler who wrote the song texts which as the debut delved into Marxist politics and personal alienation. Zeena Parkins returns with her array of electric and prepared harps, accordion and on this second album offers something new with an e-bow guitar. The most striking difference between the two NEWS FROM BABEL albums is in the vocal department. Dagmar Krause dominated the debut but this time around only appeared as a guest on the two ending tracks "Victory" and "Anno Mirabilis."

In fact five vocalists in all appear including Robert Wyatt on four tracks, future English film director Sally Potter on two tracks and Phil Minton who was a guest trumpeter on the debut but on this one makes a reprise as a lead vocalist on one track. Guest musician Bill Gilonis also contributes the occasional bass and guitar sounds when needed. Given the diversity of vocal styles on LETTERS HOME, this second coming doesn't offer the same consistency that albums by Art Bears or "Sirens and Silences / Work Resumed on the Tower" and although Robert Wyatt is a Canterbury avant-gardist legend, somehow his frail vocal style sounds totally out of place in the presence of a style of music pretty much built around Krause's unique singing style.

Another major point of separation is that LETTERS HOME seems to rely a lot more on the cabaret aspects of the NEWS FROM BABEL sound with the rock and jazz counterparts placed a little bit behind the scenes. The roaming through the avant-prog jungle approach of the debut also seems to have been tamped down a few notches with a greater emphasis on repetitive catchy motifs that establish and underbelly before unleashing the crazy counterpoints. All of this conspires to create a completely different album than its predecessor but unfortunately just doesn't rise to the same level of perfection to my ears. The album evokes the hodgepodge effect with a nonchalant randomness to the moods the different vocalists bring to the table.

It's certainly a brilliant album musically speaking with the same knotty angular nuttiness that the debut offered and plenty of blistering complexities laced like a time signature playground where no rules have been established. Pretty much anything Lindsay Cooper and Chris Cutler touched guaranteed a high quality alienating effect that no other musicians have even come close to replicating in the same manner. A slight step down in the inconsistency department as i find the vocal choices to work against the continuity rather than enhance it. Personally i would've rather seen Dagmar Krause as the sole diva in the house on this one but as it is it's still an excellent slice of high quality avant-prog which at this stage ended yet one more chapter in the extended Henry Cow playbook.

Latest members reviews

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, althou ... (read more)

Report this review (#408799) | Posted by tmay102436 | Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Review Permanlink

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