Monday, November 12, 2007

Art Bears - The World As It Is Today

Even for post-punk art rock music standards, this is fairly difficult listening. Clearly, this album is not for everyone as this type of music quite often gets unbearably heavy. But then, that's what you can pretty much expect from when you deal with musicians like the whacked-out avant-rock multi instrumentalist Fred Frith, the bizarrely wonderful percussion master Chris Cutler and last, but not least, singer Dagmar Krause (all from Henry Cow). Especially the latter has aroused some of the most contradictory opinions a vocalist can expect. An epitome of classical cabaret beauty (of the strange variety) for some, "fingernails on the chalkboard" for others. And there are moments when she blatantly tests your patience on the record. After the dissonant and mutated piano waltz "Freedom", which climaxes with Frith's angular King Crimson esque guitar feedback and Krause's utterly insane howling shrieks at times overpowering even the guitar feedback itself; i swear you shall write Yoko Ono off as a sedate lounge singer in comparison!

Elsewhere, some of the song highlights include the bizarrely memorable and melodic "The Song of Investment Capital Overseas", slightly laid-back "Truth" featuring an unorthodox use of Clavinet, dark and heavy "Democracy" capturing some of the gloomy atmosphere apparent on Henry Cow's "Western Culture" sessions without its obvious woodwind counterpoints; and "The Song of the Martyrs". This song blends gloomy keyboard chords, backward percussion and sports a bizarrely catchy chorus. Frith and Cutler form a great percussion, bass and keyboards oriented ominous and percolating 7/8 metered groove, while Krause is heard mimicking the kind of deadpan sing-speak delivery you could expect from female (post-)punk singers as she intones: "As we look about us/Things seem worse than ever". Occasionally the band delves into noise, but even the noise tracks can at times seem sonically interesting, at least moreso than some of the worst indulgences by Henry Cow, who was great with composed and structured pieces, but mostly aimless when it came to free improv.

Although not a pleasant listen, this album is nevertheless captivating here and there and needless to say, RIO fanatics definitely need this album. There's lots of great musicianship throughout the entire record and some adventurous sonic experimentation as well. Even if you find political lyrics redundant, musically this is too good to be ignored by open minded listeners.

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