Zach Hill may just be the hardest working man in the industry. His spastic and triumphant drumming has been featured in countless projects with everyone in the indie world clamoring to borrow his talents for as long as they can hold onto him. As a founding member of instrumental math rock heroes Hella, Hill has also contributed stellar work in each of his other bands including The Ladies (with Pinback’s Rob Crow), Team Sleep (with Deftones’ Chino Moreno), Bygones (with Tera Melos’ Nick Reinhart), Marnie Stern, Diamond Watch Wrists (with Prefuse 73), Nervous Cop (with Deerhoof’s Greg Sauntier), El Grupo Nuevo (with Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez Lopez) and still many others. During the mayhem of his musical outpour, 2008 saw the release of his debut solo album Astrological Straits, a collection of warped and bizarre songs light on accessibility but roaring with complex creativity. Steadily growing busier with each passing year, Hill has returned with his next solo offering Face Tat, a twisted array of insanity and mind blowing musicianship as avant-garde as they come. Working with the plethora of bands that he does, Hill has an enormous rolodex of impressive musical friends, and he uses that to his advantage on Face Tat which features many of his oft collaborators as well as some new ones. While calling this album accessible may be a stretch, it certainly heads closer to that direction for Hill with dazzling results. He may have thrown out all the rules of typical song structure and rhythms, but the hooks are present and strangely memorable.
“Memo to the Man” kicks the party off with one of the least necessary guest appearances to the world of Zach Hill, a guest drummer. While it may not be needed, that’s not to say the results aren’t terrific as Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier joins Hill for some sharp and enthusiastic duel drumming. Having worked together previously as Nervous Cop, the guys have gone all out this time with bouncing synths, echoing guitars, and stop start rhythms that will break your neck. “The Primitives Talk” is a woozy post-wave track, dizzying itself with every electronically bent note and intricate drum fill. Hill’s vocals are doubled and tripled with robotic effects causing them to appear surprisingly catchy. Almost as if he knows he’s headed into “accessible” territory, Hill quickly fixes that on “Ex-Ravers” a kaleidoscope of noise mash-ups and oddball sound projections.
“The Sacto Smile” finds Hill teamed up with No Age, creating what you may expect from the unholy pairing, a frantic scuzz punk jam that buries itself so far in fuzz it gasps for breath. “Green Bricks” keeps things every bit as abrasive, exploding with maniacal noise experimentation, glitchy crushing synths, and mind bending tape manipulation. “House of Hits” is the true stand out moment for me on the record, grooving with his typically otherworldly drum fills together with Reinhart’s elastic guitar licks and reverb soaked vocals. The complexity is still brutally apparent, but the two find room to explore without clutter, sounding free and expansive while structurally chaotic. In case you somehow weren’t being kept on your toes, “Jackers” follows with another noise collage from Hill’s drum kit and homemade army of sound effects.
“Burner in the Video” is another of the album’s more subdued moments, and we do mean that relatively. A popping vocal approach, sun bursting sounds and infectious yelps help to create one of the easiest grasped sections of the record. “Dizzy From the Twins” swirls with an old school R&B vibe that is strangely reminiscent of what the Jackson 5 might have sounded like on acid... pretty excellent. “Gross Sales” teams Hill up with Prefuse 73’s Guillermo Scot Herren and the two engage in an electronic smattering that cruises comfortably at hyper speed thanks to the tribal stampede of a rhythm.
“Total Recall” is another personal highlight, opening with a blaring alarm that gives way to grooving stoner riffs riding the rumbling attack of Hill’s drumming amid a blinding fog of fuzz. “Face Tat” reunites Hill with his Hella partner, Carson McWhirter, and the two submerge themselves in a nose diving instrumental that rips and tears at full velocity while each offer an equally dynamic role in the collective assault. Ending on the slow dripping “Second Life” Hill cranks the noise factor up once again for a psychedelic trip heavy on the visuals until the ride has come to a complete stop. No one ever promised that Face Tat was an easy listen, thanks to the fact that many of vibrant melodies are hidden under a layer of intelligent commotion, but it is infinitely interesting and increasingly rewarding.