Art Bears – The Art Box

Author: Colin | Published: 24/4/10

Artist Art Bears
Title The Art Box
Label ReR Megacorp
Year 2003
Designer Tim Schwartz
Music Art Bears
Desktop Download image
Notes It’s a pleasure to introduce this guest post by bass player extraordinaire and good friend Peter Marsh whose blog How Much Is The Fish is well worth a read:

This 6 CD box contains the three albums made by avant prog trio Art Bears between 1978 and 1981, plus a bunch of remixes, live recordings and other material. As with all the releases on Chris Cutler’s Recommended Records label, it’s a lavish, idiosyncratic package and carries the hallmarks of a labour of love.

The same went for the original three vinyl albums, whose sleeves and accompanying booklets formed an indispensable part of the Art Bears aesthetic and were made by a team of artists closely associated with the label, This was difficult music, as you may have expected from a band formed from the ashes of Maoist prog superstars Henry Cow. Their texts were allegorical, allusive and often deeply political, their music a dense and angular blend of  studio-concocted stretched rock, folk and industrial noise that was fantastically and sometimes oppressively atmospheric. Their first album took its title from a quote by a 2nd century Assyrian rhetorician; Genesis this wasn’t.

The band’s most obvious political statement was 1981’s The World As It is Today, the back cover of which wouldn’t have been out of place on a Crass album and is the only thing about the band that places them in the time of Reagan and Thatcher.The record itself was as dark as pitch, noisy, desperate and angry in a way that left most of the political post punk crowd sounding feeble. The accompanying booklet was festooned with nightmare images of smoking chimneys, strange aeroplanes with human faces and Cutler’s lyrics (all handwritten). The effect was more like a political tract by a haunted 18th century visionary than anything else, and it scared the crap out of me way more than any ‘Protect and Survive’ leaflet ever did.

Cutler’s texts for the Winter Songs album were inspired by a set of carvings from Amiens cathedral. Its cover (credited enigmatically to ‘Art Bear IV’) is a benevolent, maybe even slightly kitsch, landscape within a painted frame decorated with birds and flowers; the rear more like Chagall on acid – figures huddled in a violent red landscape. Beauty and a slight sense of unease siy snugly together. It’s perhaps this album where image and music are most inseparable. Fittingly, it’s an image from it  (‘The Winter Wheel’) that adorns the box, which features some rather nifty visual ‘remixes’ of the original sleeves as well as the music itself.

My favourite image is probably from the back cover of their debut album Hopes and Fears. It’s a seemingly innocuous landscape, though it has a brooding, magical quality that’s haunted me for years.. I’ve always associated it with the last song on the album, ‘Piers’.

When I lay on Malvern Hills
To sleep,
I dreamed of you, Piers,
Walking in the world.
I saw you passing through that
FAR FIELD unbeknown.
I heard you say,

When all treasures are tried


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