Henry – Cyanide EP

Cyanide EP

A quick note from a critic to aspiring hipster musicians: when emulating the style of one of the unimpeachable figures in the rock snob’s pantheon, be very careful how you do it. Doing your best impression of the New York Dolls might seem like the quickest route to our sweaty little hearts, but despite the facts that our species is utterly detached from reality and so few of our members have girlfriends or even contact with people that don’t come to us through vinyl, we are a wily bunch when it comes to spotting a smarmy gesture from a band. Boy howdy, are we ever keen to point out how irrelevant any music is that bears a noticeable resemblance to something which has come before. After all, how else could we let you know that we’re cool enough to listen to Captain Beefheart unless we say something gratuitous and stupid about how Tom Waits was ripping him off?
This little preamble was inspired by Boston-based trio Henry, a group whose singer/songwriter/guitarist, Don Gould, can hardly go to the bathroom without having his bodily functions compared with those of Lou Reed. Many bands find this a desirable state of affairs, as if they had no greater goal in their artistic lives than to appear in the “Followers” section of their hero’s entry on All Music Guide. Gould & Co. may or may not fall into such a category, but the great shame of it all is that so few people are able to actually hear their home-recorded debut EP, Cyanide, as a work that stands on its own rather than just as a seed of Reed. And despite flaws which do include an excessive debt owed to you-know-who, it’s a record well worth hearing.
After overcoming the distracting similarities in vocal delivery and general tone with the Velvets that have been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere, the open-minded listener should discover that there are more sources of inspiration in Henry’s bag than initial spins suggest. They are too rooted in traditional grooves to be out-and-out clones, and while that gives them some much-needed breathing room away from their purported role models, it also renders them a duller band than if they had lit out for more adventurous territory. Henry does keep things interesting by bending some harmonic and melodic rules (the former through odd chord progressions, the latter by largely ignoring melody altogether), but rhythmically, they come up short. On the uptempo cuts, they fare better than on the slower grinds. There, they sound complacent and sluggish. While Gould agitates for a hypnotic drone, drummer Brian Toomey and bassist Tom Rasku play it much more straight, with underwhelming results. Their great weakness is their lack of versatility, one which is harshly exposed even in the limited space of an EP.
In spite of this, Henry is not without significant weapons in its arsenal. The threesome displays a knack for assembling compelling songs more often than not, and when Gould’s voice rises to the surface, it shows fierce individuality. The D.I.Y. approach of Cyanide, while periodically allowing indulgences that a professional recording would rightly screen out, serves mostly to keep the performances fresh and the material authentic. It’s a personal record in both good and bad ways, but it’s neither solipsistic nor whiny, pitfalls its authors did well to avoid. And if Gould has taken a bit too much from the Rock and Roll Animal for his own good, he has at least stayed clear of the shoddier parts of Reed’s legacy, namely his penchant for cruelty and self-conscious shock. If Henry could likewise separate the wheat from the chaff with enough additional influences to downplay their primary one, their listeners might be more able to appreciate their distinct talents without the albatross of lofty comparisons.