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1 rating: 5.0
An album by Henry Cow
1 review about Unrest

this album is mind-blowing.

  • Feb 4, 2008
Henry Cow, the most political of the original Rock-in-Opposition bands, had for a motto "radical politics demand radical music." In 1974, _Unrest_ continues this philosophy in the middle ground between the RELATIVELY more conservative _Leg End_ (full of Soft Machine, Zappa, and Bartok influences, among other wonderful things!) with even more modernist structure and harmony, even electronics. along doubt due in part to the addition of Lindsay Cooper, here playing bassoon, oboe, and recorder and some wordless vocals on "Linguiphonie"... she is an awesome performer and composer!! (I highly recommend her solo work, all of it!). So she joins the already phenomenally talented group of Tim Hodgkinson, Fred Frith, John Greaves, and Chris Cutler. I love Henry Cow, and it's always hard to pick a favorite album, and whatever I decided on that at the end of the day, i would say _Unrest_ is probably the most _fun_ to listen to (well, there is _Desperate Straits_ but it's more a Slapp Happy album...). It has a great variety of moods and song types, from strictly composed pieces to more improvised pieces later modified by studio trickery.

This variety is almost a happy accident, as the band came to the studio lacking sufficient composed material to complete both sides of an album. Well, they used "Solemn Music", (Frith's nice duet for oboe and guitar, part of HC's contribution to John Chadwick's "The Tempest"), but otherwise nothing. Fortunately, Henry Cow was no stranger to improvisation or technical innovation, and they created the entire second side, "developing various experimental procedures that combine[d] improvisation, tapework, loops, layering and compositional overdubbing." A common theme in other reviews is derision towards ol' side 2, but i personally really enjoy this side of HC's music. these pieces are simply wonderful and when considered with the similar pieces from _In Praise of Learning_, represent a different side of Henry Cow's genius that one should not reduce in goodness, even if they might generally appeal more to the free-jazz/free-improv fan than the rock fan. "Linguaphonie" sounds like some kind of computer music, with instruments recorded at double- and half-speed and used for quiet noise and clashing mayhem, and with spoken French vocals, shouted vocals, and Cooper's wordless, curious vocals that sound rather confused themselves, A disturbing shriek opening "Upon Entering the Hotel Adlon" gives way to rhythmically confusing, furious jazz-rock. "Arcades" is the band is full chamber music mode, very stark and short. "Deluge" is one of my favorite songs by this band and my favorite on this album. It starts with a very puzzling array of Cutler's pattering drumming, to which various bursts of instruments respond, from broken frithian guitar chords to Cooper's grumbling, processed bassoon. Hodgkinson's spurting sax soloing bridges this with the funereal, dissonant chords of the final measures. Then, when it seems like it will fade out, Greaves enters, playing softly on piano and singing a mellifluous tune for a few bars before it suddenly ends. amazing. if this piece does not make you fight tears, you are not human.

Side one, all composed, is also excellent and gives the album great balance. Frith's "Bittern Storm over Ulm", the short opener, is peppy jazz-rock that starts rather consonantly, almost like a different band entirely. But with Ivesian craft he puts this alongside his own dissonant, free-time soloing. the song is in very good spirits, with the band's ironic handclaps and Frith's fiery improvising. Frith also composed the longest piece on the album, "Ruins", a 12-minute monster of incredibly complex and subtle structure. much of its initial passages are set up with the complex interplay of evocative melodic themes and thorny, angular RIO. A furious solo by Frith is the peak of tension before a complex section where a recurring theme of dissonant chords exchanges with passages of violin solos, proggy xylophone, mournful bassoon, and cheerful clarinet-violin duos. The music seems to calm down through a complex web of four different melodies, then it goes into a furious rock-out. The last few seconds are short and tragic, like life after the civilization is riven and all that's left is ruins. There is also the excellent "Half-Asleep, Half-Awake", a much happier song on the whole. Jazz solo piano opens and closes the piece, which is replete with beautiful and complex melodies developed at first, then furious solos and freaked-out jamming that would probably completely lose you but for Greaves who somehow always manages to hold down a tight-yet-complex groove.

So that's it. Nothing I say will ever convey how good this album is though. If you check out this album, and you should because it is a "classic-in-field", prepare for a unique, dauntingly complex masterpiece like few others. And you will never hear a guitarist like Fred Frith or a drummer like Chris Cutler.

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1 rating: +5.0
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Label: Rer Megacorp, Rer USA
Artist: Henry Cow
Release Date: June 21, 2005

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