Art Bears, Hopes And Fears

Mark Paytress

By Mark Paytress

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A work that continues to elude categorization.

Post-punk? Pre-punk, more like. Art Bears sprang from the ashes of Henry Cow, probably the most defiantly experimental of the progressive-era groups, and certainly the most (left) political. In fact Chris Cutler, the band's drummer and Marxism-informed lyricist, regarded punk rock as a retrograde musical fashion. That didn't stop him, guitarist Fred Frith and singer Dagmar Krause from breaking out from Henry Cow early in '78 to record this, the first of three often overlooked LPs. The idea, in keeping with the times, was to trim the improvisation and work within more recognisable song formats. The result was a work that continues to elude categorisation. “On Suicide” opens the set with Brechtian solemnity, which is a word that can be applied to much of the band's work. Krause's formal, operatic style — think Lotte Lenya minus the earthiness — dominates, though Cutler and Frith flirt with conventional rock midway through “In Two Minds.” The trio's second and third albums are even more accomplished.