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28 June 2009

Art Bears - 'The World As It Is Today' (ReR)

A title like this would suggest a bold statement of an album, something both philosophical and direct. Well, sure, this is the pen of Chris Cutler, after all. If you didn't think the man who wrote File Under Popular could knock it out of the park, then you're truly underestimating him. This is concise - a 45rpm mini-album, maybe a long EP - yet leaves nothing to be desired. The lovely little booklet rearranges the running order into a three lyrical groups. 'Law', 'Democracy', 'Truth', 'Freedom', 'Peace', and 'Civilisation' are classified as "6 corpses in the mouths of the bourgeoisie", but despite this heavy concept, the songs are light as air. I often forget how traditional the Art Bears actaully could be, at least in terms of instrumentation; most of these songs are drums, piano and guitars and they achieve their innovation largely through structure, composition and affect rather than effect (if you get my drift). Though 'Civilisation', at the end of side 1, is a thick, slow composition that sounds like Morton Feldman pushing a pram. It hangs in the air and never lets go, always on the verge of resolution. Vocally, Dagmar is perfect -- I can't imagine anyone else interpreting a song that is somewhat anti-democracy and transforming it into something so magical. The second lyrical group is "4 songs" and contains catchy tunes like 'The song of the Dignity of Labour Under Capital' which is more like Brecht than Engels, thankfully. The final standalone song is 'Albion, Awake!', ending the album (and the career of Art Bears) on a platform of hope, though first transformed through the most tape-manipulated section of the band's ouvre. Perhaps this twisted unraveling is an abstracted musical story of the workers of the world. The final line is 'Let banners fly like shrapnel and efface the sky!' and while I jump up with my red flag, I then think to the reality of everything that has happened since 1981, and then I get depressed, and then I just listen to some more records to wash away the pain. The real pain, of course, is that my copy of this is slightly warped, which renders 'The Song of Investment Capital Overseas' and 'Democracy' rather unplayable.

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