19 March 2009

Henry Cow - Unrest

I really don't know much about Henry Cow. Unrest is the only album I've heard by them. But it's a masterpiece of an album, and even if the rest of their stuff is garbage (which it likely isn't), they deserve to be praised based on Unrest alone.

I do know two things about Henry Cow: they were contemporaries of the Soft Machine and they were a band, not just some guy named Henry. The album Unrest sounds a bit like Third-era Soft Machine (post-singing) but with more free-jazz overtones. There are basically two types of songs in this album- those that are dominated by frenetic drumming and wailing, scatterbrained guitar solos ("Bitter Storm Over Ulm," "Half Asleep; Half Awake," "Upon Entering the Hotel Adlon"), and those that take direction via the bassoon ("Solemn Music," "Linguaphonie," "Arcades"). "Deluge" combines elements of both song structures with the drums taking the forefront and atonal, Albert Ayler-esque bassoon passages in the background. From here, the album goes into dark, tortured territory. "The Glove" sounds like a full-moon midnight at an electro-shock therapy clinic, replete with caterwauling, unsettling bassoon, and snippets of agitated drumming harnessed to what sounds like a chimp playing piano. "Torchfire" is only slightly less unnerving, as it avoids the pained yelling in favor of schizophrenic guitar and keyboard solos.

Unrest, indeed.

Henry Cow - Unrest (1974)

Here's a video of the band playing Phil Ochs' "No More Songs," one of the most depressing songs from an arsenal full of depressing songs.