Thursday, December 25, 2008
ALBUM OF THE DAY
Hella - There's No 666 in Outer Space, released 2007 (Ipecac)
By the time you finish reading this review, Sacramento experimental outfit Hella could be broken up. Or they could be releasing a 12-hour DVD concert box set. Hell, they could even have ditched the experimental math rock and become a Tom Jones cover band in Vegas. In other words, when an insanely talented band, frenetically producing material with an endless frontier mentality towards experimentation, operates under the auspices of a cultish fanbase, said band's career path takes on the unpredictability and inconsistency of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. While Hella's longtime, close-knit lineup of founders Spencer Seim and Zach Hill allowed for such a fluid shifting of gears, last year's Acoustic marked the first time the band recorded as a quintet. On There's No 666 in Outer Space, Hella's first release on Ipecac, that quintet gets completely revamped (save for Seim and Hill) and the band's sound gets jacked up.
Although difficult to tell with such a protean group, 666 seems to represent a shift for Hella. This is their first release to feature vocals on every track, and as a result of new singer Aaron Ross' caterwauls, Seim and Hill's once freeform compositions tend to concede more readily to conventional rock structures. Also, Ipecac's hallowed studio walls apparently instilled a sense of the dramatic in Hella's songwriting, as many of the songs-- while not wholly earnest or dire-- soar to lofty heights whereas previous tongue-in-cheek compositions would have them fall flat on their face.
Hmm, carefully deliberate sections? Sprawling compositions? Emotionally intense vocals? If it sounds like Hella's gone prog, they kinda have, veering close to the Mars Volta's shopping mall prog with Eastern-tinged guitar riffs, arcane lyrics and Ross's soaring voice, which eerily resembles Volta frontman Cedric Bixler's. For example, even the most sycophantic fans will experience mild cardiac arrest when, on songs like "The Things People Do When They Think No One's Looking", the band implodes at the four minute mark, only to neatly regroup for a closing chorus featuring Ross' charged lyric "Money doesn't make the world go round."
That said, this is still the freewheeling band that recorded a song titled "Welcome to the Jungle Baby, You're Gonna Live!" On "Hand That Rocks the Cradle", Hella parody monolithic acts like Rush or Yes, farting out goofy synth lines while Ross vacillates between Geddy Lee falsetto and slack-jawed Les Claypool hokum. At times 666 even flashes a calmer, gentler Hella-- relatively speaking. The verse on "Anarchists Just Wanna Have Fun" ripples around Seim's muted faux-Fugazi riff and Ross's sing-song melody, while "The Ungrateful Dead" parlays the 8-bit Nintendo epics covered by Hella side project the Advantage into a stomping opus that'd fry any Castlevania cartridge. Tracks like these don't give 666 a free pass solely because they combine the histrionic with the cheeky. Hella jampacks each song with riffs and hooks at almost the same clip as magnum opus Chirpin' Hard, avoiding the ham-handed ten minute build-ups that Mars Volta trudges through, arriving at a chorus hardly worth the wait. Excusing the album's inherent garishness, 666 expands Hella's core sound to new heights that, although at times hard to stomach, finds the band both at their most playful and regimented. - pitchforkmedia.com
Posted by Dan Goldin at 10:00 AM