I tried to like Henry Cow. I really did. Superficially, they appeared to be just my "cup of tea", so to speak. They played the Rock In Opposition festivals with Univers Zero and Art Zoyd in the late 70's, they brandished "experimental composition" as a weapon against the vanguard of commercial artists rising to prominence in that decade, they talked the talk, they walked the walk. But I always just found their music a little too "jazzy", too mellow to fully blow my mind or sufficiently pump my nads.
Such is not the case with Art Bears. Formed by half of Henry Cow after their dissolution (string guy Fred Frith, percussion guy Chris Cutler, and vocalist Dagmar Krause), the Bears embraced a much more "avant-garde" and skewed vision of rock and roll, following the experimental ideas they had explored in previous years out to their logical conclusions. The Henry Cow split was not a clean one, though, as the first Art Bears album (1978's Hopes And Fears) ended up featuring all of the Cow members, in an almost "split album" sort of set-up, presenting the last of their musical ideas created under that moniker.
In effect, Winter Songs was the first "true" Art Bears album, and also their second-to-last (the band split up in 1981). But it's definitely a departure from the smooth jazz of Henry Cow, full of off-the-wall instrumentation, emotionless, almost surgical vocals from Krause, weird piano rumblings, guitar feedback, and out-of-place dissonance. One listen to the almost Melt-Banana-esque "Rats And Monkeys" will confirm that this was a band with their brains firmly dwelling in deep space. Psychedelic minimalist opera? Ren Faire on Quaaludes? Primordial Bjork fronting a malfunctioning, terminally injured jazz duo? Guilty on all counts. Enjoy.
Below: Art Bears photographed 5/7/79 (one day before my birth).
Fan Myspace / Last.FM