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Henry Cow - Western Culture CD (album) cover

WESTERN CULTURE

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.31 | 257 ratings

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TCat
5 stars After some dissention in the band, this would become Henry Cow's last album. The attention of members of the group would now go towards the "Art Bears". It was then decided that this album would be an all instrumental album, thus staying away from any commercial appeal pretty much. What ended up happening, after all was said and done, is this excellent album of Rock in Opposition, probably the best of all of the Henry Cow albums.

What you get here is some of the best avant-prog out there with a huge dose of free form jazz. The album become "split in two" with one side being called "History and Prospects" and being completely composed by Tim Hodgkinson. This part of the album is made up of 3 tracks. Starting out with 'Industry' we get a more metallic sounding piece provided mostly by strings, but still with plenty of softer sounding passages that even it all out. All the aspects of free form avant-prog are there, but there is plenty of structure to know that the boundaries are there to form a certain sound. 'The Decay of Cities' is more centered on a brassy feel, with plenty of horns and dissonance among the instruments. Again, a bit of structure is there, just enough to keep things constant as far as the feel of the track. The side finishes up with a shorter track called 'On the Raft' which is again run by brass, though more as a structured whole than free form individual parts as on the previous track. The percussion is more rhythmic than the previous tracks, at least at first. Things do turn a little darker towards the middle of the track though. There is one wayward instrument providing the feeling of a cannon on the loose while the others play together.

The 2nd half of the album is called 'Day By Day' and is composed by Lindsay Cooper. There are 4 tracks on this half, but the last track is composed by both Cooper and Hodgkinson, so that is the only exception to the rest of the album concept. This side starts with 'Falling Away' which is a bit smoother sounding than the harshness of side 1. There is still plenty of dissonance, but you get the feel of more direction here, so maybe a tad less improvised, but not much. It seems that this is a more sectional piece than previous on the album. There is finally a lead by the guitar in the middle of this one, which is followed by an oboe. Next is 'Gretal's Take' which is headed over by reed instruments more so than brass, with a great jazz piano section reminiscent of King Crimson's 'Cat Food'. Again, there is the sectional aspect of the track, even though it is only 3 minutes, there seems to be a lot going on here. 'Look Back' is a short minimal piece with brass and woodwinds playing together, no percussion. The side winds up with '' the Sky' composed by both Hodgkinson and Cooper. This one is very free form with an organ and percussion providing a foundation for an improvised sax. Sudden structure forms halfway through with some great bass interplay and the instruments sometimes play 'insieme' and apart.

There are a few bonus tracks that were added, including 'Viva Pa Ubu' which actually has all four band members singing together (in a somewhat haphazard way) with some interplay with instruments. Suddenly the album wasn't an all- instrumental album anymore. There is also an alternative version of the short track 'Look Back' and another short track called 'Slice'.

This is an excellent avant-prog album and is a great example of the genre. It would serve well as an entry album for those wondering about the genre and whether it would be for them or not. There is plenty of free form improvisation here, with just enough structure to keep things more digestible to those who are not used to the sound. There is a lot of variety here too, which is not always an easy thing to find on many albums in this genre. This is definitely an album worth checking out and it is, in my opinion, a perfect and essential avant-prog album.

TCat | 5/5 |

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