Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Art Bears - Winter Songs (1979)
Try to imagine a blend of angular, percussive guitar work, European folk melodies, Medieval tinged lyrics and bizarre Teutonic female vocals and you'll begin to get an idea of what this album is all about.
The Art Bears were a side project of Chris Cutler and Fred Frith's earlier avant-garde rock group, Henry Cow. Cutler plays drums and writes the allegorical lyrics expressing his political views, while Frith plays guitar and violin and they are both joined by the admittedly strange, but undeniably unique vocals of Dagmar Kraus. The arrangements are sparse, sometimes skeletal, with only guitar and drums (and occasionally violin) and this gives the music a somewhat brittle quality.
The musicianship is excellent all around. Few guitarists can match Frith for innovation both in technique and composition, and Cutler is a very skilled and dynamic drummer. There is also a good deal of studio experimentation going on here, with backwards vocals and tape loops both used to great effect.
The album's highlight is "Rats and Monkeys," a frantic experiment that is so abrasive and noisy, it's practically guaranteed to clear any room into which it is played. Naturally, I love it.
Winter Songs is a difficult record to be sure, but lovers of the avant-garde and people willing to put in a little effort will ultimately find it a very rewarding listen.