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4 Aug 2017

Art Bears “Winter Songs” 1979 UK Prog Avant Garde,Experimental Canterbury Scene

Art Bears “Winter Songs” 1979 UK Prog Avant Garde,Experimental  Canterbury Scene 

Art Bears was formed in 1978, when disputes over the musical direction within Henry Cow were settled by the band’s last project into Art Bears’ debut album after which Chris Cutler, Fred Frith and Dagmar Krause decided to continue and develop the project. Their brilliant second album, Winter Songs, placed Art Bears in the forefront of the Rock in Opposition Movement. Art Bears’ intense and brutal avant-garde approach on the album comes across as primordial expression, which is nailed down by Krause’s violently charismatic voice. As a piece of music whose originality remains unrivalled, Winter Songs is even more relevant today than it was at the time of its release. Being an impelling force behind the inception of the label and bands like Circle, Winter Songs is a particularly proud addition to the Ektro Records’ catalogue..

 Winter Songs is a much more fitting example of Art Bears music than the debut Hope And Fears is: indeed only the basic trio is present and the Henry Cow page is now turned. Apparently written arranged and recorded (and mixed) in less than two weeks, this might sound like a tour de force, but before saying, please make sure you throw an ear on this album before making a judgment. I'm saying this because I read a review or two claiming Art Bears to be "Gothic Rock". I'm not sure they heard the same album I did. Unless they think of Bauhaus or Killing Joke's incessant sonic assaults on your sanity, I really don't see Dagmar dressed as a gothic witch belting would-be opera vocals, but Art Bears is nowhere close to ether end of the Gothic rock spectrum. 
Musically there are still HC links, but we've moved away from it and towards the Slapp Happy (desperate Straits), but it's clear that art Bears goes out of its way to try to annoy your ears in order to open your minds, and for that Dagmar's vocals is the perfect too, stretching from the psychotic and completely mad to the semi-cabaret-style (Dietrich-Minelli style) vocals, and never leaving you in the aural comfort zone. Of course CC and FF will do nothing to ease your ill mind and soothe your aching eardrums with their respective drumming and torturing the string of the latter's guitars (Hermit is amazing in this regard) and violin and twiddles the keys. Cutler's drumming is particularly impressive throughout the album, but in The Slave. Dagmar's vocals at the shriekiest are in the following Rats & Monkeys but somehow after the first few listens, your ears grows to accept it as "normal" (even the more "Teutonic" intonations) and the rest of the music will go down easier (or relatively easily), because YOU have progressed. Winter Songs is definitely more song oriented than Henry Cow was as Skeleton Crew or News From Babel will be. 

Winter Songs is certainly a more representative Art Bears album than its predecessor and debut Hope & Fears, but personally I find it a bit bare and too raw at times. As said above, AB seems to go out of its way to destabilize their listeners, and as praise-worthy this angle on music is, it sometimes sounds artificial, as is the case here. I'll be careful about the recommendations, because this is not for everyone, but then again, if you're looking up Art Bears, you've passed a while ago the TFK-neo prog stage, so you shouldn't be all that taken aback by this. And compared to its successor, this one is a bit of top 40 easy listening album. So I won't make this essential, although more than one RIO-head Sean Trane ...

Art Bears' second album is their masterpiece, a beautifully focussed and concentrated piece of work that was recorded in just 2 weeks. Amazingly, the music was all written during the recording period - Chris Cutler arrived with the texts, Fred Frith set them to music and the arrangements evolved in the studio. On this album there were no guest musicians, although special mention should be made of engineer Etienne Conod's contribution to their use of the studio as a compositional instrument.
Where their debut album explored several different themes, the lyrics for Winter Songs are informed mostly by Chris Cutler's fascination with the Middle Ages and are based on stone carvings in Amiens cathedral (except for two songs that refer to similar carvings in other cathedrals from the same era and area). The words are always poetic and sometimes oblique, although Cutler's political leanings can be inferred from Gold: "Owned men mined me/And out of their lives all my value derived/And out of their deaths/My authority". The music has some of folk influences first heard on 'Hopes and Fears' (Frith began his musical career in folk clubs and some of his solo albums feature his unique take on various folk traditions), but also ventures into dense, dark RIO style chamber rock and even into Residents- influenced studio wizardry. With Frith playing everything except drums, the arrangements are precise and uncluttered. Bass guitar is only heard on a few tracks, most notably on The Summer Wheel and 3 Figures, and like all the other elements in the sonic palette it is only used when necessary. There are some splendid passages featuring violin and piano, as well as Frith's ever inventive guitar. Chris Cutler's drumming is likewise a model of clarity and concision - rather than trying to fill all the available space, he knows when to drive the tempo forward, when to play softly to complement Frith or Dagmar and - most crucially - when not to play at all. Dagmar's interpretation of this material features some of her best vocal performances - The Hermit is sung with a clear, bell like tone, on The Skeleton she is at her most strident and the frantically uptempo Rats and Monkeys (a counterpart to the rock out on In Two Minds from Hopes and Fears) shows the uniqueness of her talent. A particularly powerful moment comes at the opening of First Things First, where the vocal is played backwards as an introduction to the song, mirroring the the theme of the lyrics (two dead trees pulling apart in opposite directions). Lyrics, melody, rhythm, arrangement and production are all informed by a singular vision, and there is nothing extraneous anywhere in these 12 songs.

Despite the possibly forbidding avant garde credentials of the writers and performers, this often a melodic and accessible album. Dagmar's voice is something of an acquired taste, but it is worth persevering with; few albums released under the 'rock' banner have such a coherent and fully realised artistic vision. This album is on a par with Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom, Christian Vander's Wurdah Itah or Captain Beefheart's Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Uneasy listening, but highly rewarding and strongly recommended. Syzygy ........

 An excellent, very very artsy album. Words that come to mind are violent, bleak and cold.
Dagmar Krause's powerful and unique voice dominates most of the record, with sparse and percussive stabs of innovative instrumentals arrangements serving as a backdrop, with the occasional studio experiment The lyrics are stark and often beautiful portraits of the dark ages, with allegorical undertones.

At times the album is soft (although it never even comes close to anything other than "difficult" listening) and at times it becomes maniacally frenzied, as in the show stopping "Rats and Monkeys," which is a great track for getting whoever is in the room to promptly leave.

In short, it's not for everyone, but if you can get past the somewhat abrasive quality of the music, you'll find it very thellama73 

 This is ART BEARS second album.It was originally released on THE RESIDENTS "Ralph Records" label. It's been remastered by Bob Drake and re-released on the ReR label. They're a trio with Dagmar Krause on vocals, Fred Frith on guitar / violin / keyboards and Chris Cutler on drums. Chris also wrote the lyrics that "Tell political allegories through medieval-tinged stories." My biggest surprise with this album was at how dark it was, then add Dagmar's often creepy vocals and it makes the cover art seem ironic. 
"The Bath Of Stars" is dark with the organ floating in the background as these creepy vocals slowly come and go. Cool song. "First Things First" opens with vocals only then these dark,sparse piano lines join in. Drums and guitar after a minute. "Gold" again opens with vocals only. Piano and other sounds join in. Eerie stuff. "The Summer Wheel" is led by drums and piano as vocals join in. This is almost normal sounding. Love the drumming. He's busy yet restrained. Bass like sounds after 2 minutes. "The Slave" sounds really good. It settles after a minute as the organ floats in with almost spoken vocals. It kicks back in with violin after 2 minutes. Guitar follows. Nice. "The Hermit" opens with vocals followed by violin and drums. Contrasts continue. I like this one a lot. "Rats And Monkeys" features aggressive vocals as the violin screeches. Intense is the word here. A crazy ending to this one too. 

"The Skeleton" opens with organ and drums.Vocals and piano around a minute. Guitar before 2 minutes. "The Winter Wheel" is led by drums and vocals early.Great sound after 2 1/2 minutes as it has gotten much fuller. "Man And Boy" has a crazy intro.It's dark and ominous as the almost spoken vocals with piano join in. A very avant-garde tune. "Winter / War" is slow paced with vocals and piano. It picks up 1 1/2 minutes with guitar and drums. "Force" is uptempo with vocals as the guitar joins in. "Three Figures" has some excellent vocal arrangements on it and I really like the overall sound. "Three Wheels" opens with vocals. Piano arrives as it calms down. Reserved vocals join in. Amazing sound as it gets fuller. Love the atmosphere. 

4.5 stars for this one. A must for Rio / Avant Mellotron Storm 

 The first Art Bears album produced by Frith, Cutler and Krause on their own (they had the help of the rest of Henry Cow on the debut album), Winter Songs offers exactly what it says on the tin: a set of song-oriented compositions with a brittle, cold atmosphere enhanced by some intriguing tape experiments. The sound here is naturally more sparse than the debut, due to the stripped-down lineup, but here and there you can hear the seeds which would eventually grow into the excellent News From Babel debut album. An acquired taste, but I actually think it stands up better to repeated listens than some of Henry Cow's lesser works....... by Warthur .

Finding distribution on the Residents' Ralph Records label, the Art Bears' second album consists of 12 songs of various tensions: rest vs. speed, improv vs. pulse, space vs. density, Dagmar Kraus's vocals vs. everyone else. As usual, Chris Cutler's lyrics tell political allegories through medieval-tinged stories: slaves, castles, and wheels of fortune (and industry) dominate. Fred Frith explores discordance through his guitar, and European folk figures through his always enjoyable violin. Though not as confrontational as their other work, the centerpiece has to be the frantic "Rats and Monkeys" with three minutes of teeth-gritting, out-of-control insanity as all three players are plugged into a wall outlet and let rip. A guaranteed lease breaker if played often enough. [Winter Songs was included in the Art Box box set along with Hopes & Fears and The World as It Is Today -- with all three in remastered form -- released by ReR in 2004.]..... by Ted Mills...

Reviewer's note: Due to certain dark, deeply personal urges which the vocals of this album dredge up within me, I have consulted (by way of a less than reputable acquaintance) a certain Ecuadorian "Dentist" and procured a prescription for some rather high-potency Lithium, which I will be popping liberally during the following writing, so as to facilitate a more "balanced" review, and to hopefully not drag said text into the gutter of my difficult-to-suppress erotic "dark place". Apologies in advance for any lapses in grammar or punctuation this may cause. 

Allllrrrrright. Art Bears. 
At the sour turn of the Sixties, two Cambridge students(natch), Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson formed the nexus of Henry Cow, a band who over the course of ten years pretty much bucked every stale tradition of Rock, creating their own odd, Baroque-inflected free jazz soaked cacophony which they refined to a method (or perhaps more accurately a series of techniques to build upon) dubbed "Rock in Opposition" by way of several communal traipses across old Europa and six (well, seven-"Concerts" was the anything-but-ubiquitous live double) polarizing, sometimes pretentious but always deeply rewarding albums, two of which were recorded (in true 70's art-rock pinko fashion) as shared efforts with like-minded (read "obviously bent") German labelmates (Virgin usedta be one of the world's most adventurous record companies, believe it or not) Slapp Happy, Fronted by exotic twitterer Dagmar Krause...ohhh, time for another pill. hold on. 

Ahh. there. Anyway, During the recording of their final (and in my opinion, finest) album "Western Culture", the band split down the middle, with Hodgkinson wanting to continue down the increasingly oblique "tin foil hat-doffing" path their music had been careening down, and Frith wanting to perform more "song-oriented" fare. In a fashion unusually amicable and diplomatic for such a politically-minded outfit, Frith split off with percussionist Chris Cutler, to finish recording the material they had prepared for "Western Culture" but which did not make the final lp. Cutler wrote lyics, and lo and behold, their recently-made-bandless Harpy acquaintance Dagmar Krause stepped up to the plate to deliver them...Errrm, pill time, excuse me. 

Yeah. Cutler cribbed a band name, Brion Gysin style, from a quote out of the book "Ancient Art and Ritual", "Art bears traces of its collective, social origin" and the band was up and running. Their first album, "Hopes and Fears" was released in 1978, being made entirely of Cutler and Frith's aforementioned leftover Henry Cow material, updated to include Krause's vocals. 
Now, since her days in Slapp Happy, something akin to a slow-burning demonic possession occured within Dagmar Krause. Where once there was a charming, if limited, psych-pop singer (picture a Teutonic Grace Slick) there now was a voice that would make Wagner sweat clean through his hair-shirt. The two collaborative Slapp-Cow (Henry Happy?) albums displayed her intent and and a far more adventurous set of pipes, but it's on "Hopes and Fears" where she really spontaneously combusts. Unfortunately, the album feels very uneven, because Cutler and Frith's sometimes exceedingly spare (methinks the pair had read too much Bertold Brecht) playing just doesn't keep up with Krause's glottal acrobatics. One gets the feeling they were deliberately trying to clear the room for her musically, but could've done so without completely clipping their own formidable wings. 


This, thankfully was not so on their second album "Winter Songs". The duo wrote a fresh batch of 14 succinct, arguably more tuneful songs (though I find it funny what Frith and Cutler conceptualize "song-oriented" material to be--it's as if the only "Pet Sounds" they were influenced by were the ones made by the communal Sheepdog when it got heartworms) all based loosely on carvings which adorn the walls of the Amiens cathedral in France. Dense? Yep. Challenging? You bet. This is a tough, TOUGH album to crack. It's supposed to be. You'll think, "What the hell is this? it sounds like a dumptruck full of Oboes and soup cans being driven off a crystal cliff by a yowling Succubus!"-even if you're familiar with its' creators' previous output. 
But with repeated listens (which you will be compelled beyond your will to commit yourself to--I certainly was) it's brilliance will begin to take shape, an angular Swan which slowly carves itself out of the ice of initial distaste. Brilliance, nay, genius, all too apparent in Frith's shapeshifting guitars and stark arrangements and Cutler's pots-and-pans-in a room full of cuckoo clocks percussion, and his oblique, preternatural lyrics, delivered supernaturally by...THAT VOICE. It is the confounding voice of crestfallen strength, desperate and seemingly tuneless, yet never missing a note. It is stark in the greatest German tradition, but unlike much less talented and yet far more namedropped "anti-singers" like Nico, It is a voice strained and cold via too much emotion, rather than devoid of it. You can hear Krause's inflection and influence in the yelp of Siouxie, the stern command of Nina Hagen, the searing operatic baritone of Jarboe and the tenor of Diamanda Galas. In the demented "whisper-to-a howl" of P.J. Harvey. Its, its.... 

Damn it. I promised myself I wouldn't sully an otherwise fairly studious review, but Lithium be damned. It's my Eastern European blood...The vocals make me want to be dominated. Have a patent-leather stilletto heel ground into my ribs, a clove cigarette ashed in my open eye, carve a Brisket thats taken straight from the oven and placed on my bare back, You get the picture. Nothing scatological, Just a good ass-kicking. Dagmar, you can be my personal "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS" any time. 

Wow. I feel better. 

(I still think Nietzsche and Ayn Rand were full of shit, though.) Klaus Trofobya...Head Heritage..

When one thinks intuitively, without having heard or even looked at the music, the phrase “Rock in Opposition” can sound exactly like annoying socialist ranting, yet in fact Art Bears’ Winter Songs could hardly be less like that even though there is a definite effort in the songs to see things from the perspective of ordinary people. 

It is well-known that Winter Songs is a concept album about the construction of Amiens Cathedral, but people do not generally realise how strongly the mystical aspects one might expect are present. This is most evident in the beautiful, stark “The Hermit” and the fiery, amazingly powerful “The Slave” and “Rats and Monkeys” where the clattering intensity of the strings somehow manages to be melodic, and second track “First Things First” is incomprehensible but its stark power is equally startling. 

The reduction of the Art Bears to just Krause, Frith and Cutler makes for an extremely stark yet solid sound whose emotional power is amazing all though Winter Songs, even when the cacophony eases completely as in “The Skeleton” with its beautiful duet of piano and organ as Krause chants a bleak tale of a tortured religious man. “The Winter Wheel” is possessed of even bleaker beauty as a cold European winter is evoked with the usual passion: even when the guitar comes in it is used very sparingly as a solo instrument. Then “Man and Boy” makes a transition from loud to quiet that is as dramatic and more subtle than Roxy’s “Mother of Pearl”. The two-part “Winter”/“War” begins with a classic chant by Krause before moving into the most conventional music on Winter Songs with a meditative solo, but the breakneck “Force” jolts the listener completely as soon as he or she feels lulled. Then “Three Figures” and the slow, fierce “Three Wheels” describe an awakening to spring with the same simple power that marks the whole album. 

Ranging from mystical beauty to cacophonous power, Winter Songs is a startling listen of remarkable depth and

This exquisite album is a set of songs each based on a small scenes carved in the stonework of Amiens Cathedral. I tend to hold this album in a semi-religious awe in general, which is therefore congruous. It is a masterpiece of European songwriting in the real sense of the word - deriving from folk (not "folksy") elements and the modern classical schools. I think people often think that such material is a failure to write a "pop" song. Not really. It was utterly, painstakingly intended to be exactly what it is but unfortunately, there is little context for sophistication in modern non-classical audiences these days and so it is often completely misunderstood. With "Hopes and Fears", some of the finest real songs of the last few

A reissue of the brilliant second album by Art Bears, a band/project featuring Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause, formed in 1978 after disputes over the musical direction within Henry Cow. 'Winter Songs', originally released in 1979, placed Art Bears in the forefront of the Rock In Opposition Movement. Art Bears' intense and brutal avant-garde approach on the album comes across as primordial expression, which is nailed down by Krause's violently charismatic voice. As a piece of music revealing unrivalled originality and creativity, 'Winter Songs' is even more relevant today than it was at the time of its original release.......

Winter Songs often seems like the third wheel in Art Bears' trilogy of full-length releases; it is neither as overtly political nor as musically diverse as either of the albums that bookend it. Nevertheless, it's just as accomplished as the others, if perhaps slightly less accessible. The instrumental palette is stripped down, and there seems overall to be a stronger emphasis on Krause's vocals as a result. Even in the one piece where Frith and Cutler really let loose - "Rats and Monkeys" - it's impossible to escape Krause's frenzied shrieking, and she more than matches the other musicians in hyperactivity. Thankfully, she is in fine form throughout, singing lyrics that are extraordinarily intriguing despite being entirely descriptive (the concept is based on bas-relief carvings; each song's text is a straightforward description of one such carving) with characteristic ease. The mood is stark, and the lyrics deal with heavy subjects, death prominently among them. The opening track is a good introduction, with Krause's voice rising, lonely, out of a primordial haze of keyboard droning. The song moves along slowly, with only a few modulations in the backing keys to accompany Krause's musings, before fading into oblivion. While other songs are more active, with Cutler's percussion naturally playing a huge role, the mood is set from the beginning, and Winter Songs never strays far from that base. As a result, it is perhaps Art Bears' least "fun" album, but also could be one of their more rewarding ones. As for those lyrics: while it's true they are less overtly political than the heavy-handed screed that is The World as it is Today, this is still pretty strongly Marxist stuff. The descriptive texts paint pretty clear pictures of dislocation and social alienation (for example, in "Man and Boy") in medieval societies presumably on the edge between feudalism and capitalism. So those looking for meaning in the lyrics more comparable to the other two Art Bears albums will n --brandon, Ground & Sky...........

After releasing Hopes and Fears, Art Bears reduced themselves from a lineup very similar to the original Henry Cow into a trio of vocalist Dagmar Krause and songwriters Fred Frith and Chris Cutler for ‘Winter Songs’, a concept album about medieval life as depicted in the cathedral of Amiens, France. The tendency to turn fragments into full-fledged songs on ‘Hopes and Fears’ stands still more evident on ‘Winter Songs’: much of the material does not have the conventionally “repetitive” song structures and possess a single verse and a couple of instrumental passages. Nonetheless, this concentrated focus only helps Krause, who produces some of the fiercest vocals likely to be heard in any genre of music on ‘Rats and Monkeys’, where the occasional "industrial" elements seen on ‘Hopes and Fears’ almost alchemically came into her voice without Krause ever shouting.

The eerie opener ‘The Bath of Stars’ sets a mystical tone that belies the fact that they were dedicated socialists (though this is true of ‘Hopes and Fears’, it is even more apparent on ‘Winter Songs’). On ‘First Things First’, Krause sings in a throaty chant with minimal accompaniment from Cutler that adds even more to the mystical quotient. ‘Gold’ is where the conceptual idea of ‘Winter Songs’ begins: whilst it is not as remarkable a piece as the first two, it remains extremely solid. The next three tracks move deeper into the medieval concept of the whole record, with tales of the life of poor peasants in a very dark but quiet and in some ways romantic tone – then comes the desolate imagery of above-mentioned centrepiece ‘Rats and Monkeys’ seemingly aims to destroy illusions, but musically it is so astonishing as to be one of the essential musical pieces of the twentieth century. The way Krause screeches without losing a sense of melody over the jumpy guitar and violin lines that repeat themselves like a complex, curved carving is irresistibly stunning yet clearly tough to repeat because of its total spontaneity. The whole three-and-a-half minutes of "Rats and Monkeys" comes as a kind of warning, especially when the song breaks down at its finale into totally incomprehensible noise.

‘The Skeleton’ returns to austere piano balladry and mystical chanting with only a simple guitar solo and hand percussion as ornaments: it is the first of a few songs that are focused with death - fitting for a time when life in Europe really was short for most people despite immense creativity. ‘Winter Wheel’ is as generic as ‘Winter Songs’ ever could become with its stately slow narrative of barren fields after a harsh winter, and one has mixed emotions about the coming-of-age ritual on ‘Man and Boy’, but ‘Winter/War’, with its glacial piano and lyrics of futility about spring coming, shows yet another side of this trio. After a stately and beautiful guitar solo, ‘Force’ is the final coming of spring to shatter the winter via shattering and amazingly concentrated power and an abrupt close, actually kind of like the Slits’ ‘Shoplifting’ from the same year. ‘Three Figures’ depicts a boy wanting battle but being distracted: its sharp power is unmistakeably Art Bears and the tone is exceptionally bleak. Closer ‘Three Wheels’ returns to the mystical tone of ‘First Things First’ and ‘The Skeleton’: the lyrics question without a sign of resolution whether medieval life really had the freedom imagined by people like Elizabeth Kantor.

Whilst the concept of ‘Winter Songs’ – and as I have said the tone – surprises me for a group renowned for its leftist activism, the whole record is seamless and Dagmar Krause weaves a spell of vocal pyrotechnics that are rarely seen anywhere in the music world. From chaotic noise to mystical chants, ‘Winter Songs’ has a remarkable number of wonderful moments.....By mianfei......

Line-up / Musicians 
- Fred Frith / guitars, violin, keyboards 
- Chris Cutler / drums, percussion 
- Dagmar Krause / vocals 
+ Etienne Conod / engineering, mixing

A1 The Bath Of Stars
A2 First Things First
A3 Gold
A4 The Summer Wheel
A5 The Slave
A6 The Hermit
A7 Rats & Monkeys
B1 The Skeleton
B2 The Winter Wheel
B3 Man & Boy
B4 Winter / War
B5 Force
B6 3 Figures
B7 3 Wheels

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