Review Summary: A much more fitting example of Art Bears music.Winter Songs
is the first Art Bears album produced by Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause on their own, with 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. The group adopted an approach of creating the sound first and committing it to tape immediately, instead of leaving the sound detail to post-production mixing. The whole album was recorded and mixed simultaneously, taking just two weeks from start to finish. Amazingly, the music was all written during the recording period, Cutler arrived with the texts, Frith set them to music and the arrangements evolved in the studio.
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 based on carvings on the dado of the west facade of Amiens Cathedral in France. Musically, there are some folk influences first heard on Hopes and Fears
, but also ventures into a dense and dark avant-rock style, strongly influenced by The Residents
and Frank Zappa
. With Frith playing everything except drums, the arrangements are precise and uncluttered. There are some splendid passages featuring violin and piano, as well as Frith's ever inventive noisy guitar. Chris Cutler's particularly impressive 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, stretching from the psychotic and completely mad to the semi-cabaret-style vocals. All lyrics, melody, rhythm, noise, arrangement and production are all informed by a singular vision, and there is nothing superfluous anywhere in these fourteen songs.
All in all, Winter Songs
is certainly a more representative Art Bears album than its predecessor and debut Hopes and Fears
. Despite the avant-garde qualities of the band, this is often a melodic, violent and cold album. Dagmar's powerful and unique voice is something of an acquired taste, and at times the album is soft and at times it becomes maniacally frenetic.