The other evening in the wee hours, I heard News From Babel’s “Letters Home” (1985) for the first time in a few years. This is music that continually surprises, with melody that takes sudden turns and twists, alternately giddy, melancholy, hysterical, and politically strident. It’s an album I’ve heard dozens of times, and there’s always more to hear. The style is difficult to describe to someone who’s new to this whole area of music. What area of music, you ask? Again, a difficult question.
This record is one remarkable artifact from a distinct group of like-minded musicians that has assembled and disbanded in various configurations for about 40 years now. Those various groups, like Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, Art Bears, Cassiber, Skeleton Crew, Naked City and Massacre, are too diverse to categorize, ranging from giddy, wry pop tunes, to ear-splitting maelstrom, to complex, variously dissonant and delightful orchestrations, laced with some of the most sensitive, intricate group improvisation that has yet occurred on Earth. Read more