Review by Brian Way
With an equal affinity for minimalism, repetition, relentlessness, and abrasive noise, Health's self-titled debut opens with a distant drone that ever so slowly becomes audible, very likely to get the listener to turn up the volume searching for the song, then pummels the unsuspecting over the head with a blunt blast of keys and drums. "Heaven" then drops into a volcano-worshipping tribal groove complete with mondo-distorto guitar and wordless chants that recalls Liars at their most primal. But before a modus operandi can be established, the second song "Girl Attorney" flails about like a rabid Tasmanian devil for the entirety of its 36 seconds of no-wave skronk. Combine the elements of those two openers and you have the third song, "Triceratops," which may be the closest thing to a traditionally formatted song here, with chanted vocals, atonal analog keys, and rudimentary guitar and bass, with a shifting time signature and a coda of layered feedback. The album continues on for a total of 11 songs in 28 minutes combining equal parts Liars' caveman conceptualism, Trans Am's frayed Motorik, and This Heat's noisy-yet-groovin' absurdity, cramming it all into a spazzy SoCal art-punk blender set on frappé. These mostly instrumental (unless you count mumbling, chanting, shouting and screaming) sketches are alternately assaultive and soothing, luring the listener into a hypnotic catatonia then jarring the senses with pulsating blasts of static. It may be some sort of shock therapy disguised as music, but whatever it is, it's captivating.
[Lovepump United; 2007]
The self-titled debut by L.A. quartet HEALTH begins deceptively, opening in complete silence. In fact, the first half-minute would be entirely blank if not for the slow approach of a lone, distant whirr. But once the band announces itself with a huge, reverberating crash, the album rarely returns to such quietude. Sprinting through eleven tracks of orchestrated chaos in a breathless half-hour, HEALTH mixes the bombastic pound of Boredoms, the skewed structures of Deerhoof, the tribal thump of Liars, and even the synth squirts of Black Dice and Excepter.
What keeps HEALTH from being an unqualified success is that the group evokes all of the above reference points a little too closely. That's especially true in regards to the Boredoms and Liars. HEALTH's penchant for dramatic percussion, cresting noise, and ghostly vocals make some tracks sound like those two groups dueling loudly in an empty, cavernous amphitheater. On "Courtship", Eye-worthy screams melt into Angus Andrew-like moans over trance-inducing drums, while "//M\" starts with symphonic blasts before drifting into ethereal chants, then slamming back into cacophonous percussion.
But being able to call to mind such stellar groups, and, more importantly, do them justice, are not exactly easy tricks. Besides, HEALTH execute their noisy rants and sharp stomps with such precision that even their most generic tracks are impressive. Despite all the in-your-face clatter, the group also excels at small accents and mild surprises: take the chiming guitar chords in the middle of "Crimewave", the robotic noise at the end of "Tabloid Sores", the grainy textures inside the melting breakdown of "Zoothorns". While none of those sounds shock given what's come before, each deviates just enough from the other, as the band finds tiny variations inside steadfast repetition.
HEALTH's sound starts to slip interestingly off its hard-earned course during the album's last three tracks. "Glitter Pills" is a stoic dance piece with canned drums and handclaps, like a sleep-walking version of recent Black Dice, while "Perfect Skin" and "Lost Time" are both slow, hypnotized marches. Here, HEALTH sticks to simple, unvarying rhythmic lurches beneath sky-reaching vocals that suggest Animal Collective at 16rpm. As earlier in the album, the reference points here are clear, and HEALTH at times meld them into their own wholly singular work.
-Marc Masters, November 05, 2007
(Lovepump United; 2007)
Calling HEALTH a disarming exercise in contradiction is only half right. The Los Angeles quartet seems entirely bent on stuttering, macroscopically shifting -- no, more like slamming into a brick wall and then turning around -- dynamics and time signatures; they’re compared to the Liars (got that one out of the way) and that’s fine, apt, sure enough. Because the Liars like to be different and like to make music that is categorized as “different” inside its own unrelentingly different canon. The Liars you know and probably love will never be more than creative minds in transit, which would be engaging if they could ever tag an imaginative conceit down without skipping to the next genre stain, leaving behind modifiers that only seem to amount to “tribal” or “abrasive.” They do use quite a bit of drum tracks and, absolutely, they play pretty durn fast. Just like HEALTH, who also parse fiending rockets of reverb and stentorian kit rattle with melodramatic ambience. That overt pandering to silence can be very pretty as it strips naked, like the air after a downpour or like a moribund winter tree discarded by a flock of blackbirds. Take the chilling synth of “Heaven” that creeps into view for twenty-eight heaving seconds before it can make a dent; the nada-ness of the void bookending “//M\” is charged and fizzing with absence, so much more haunted (those stabs of lead guitar, organ, and snare are nothing short of shocking, perfectly timed within themselves but lost and out of sync in the context of the rest of the song) than anything the Liars could possibly imagine, even with the ornate halls of that East German castle studio or whatever claustrophobically limning the mood of their opus.
The Liars are easy to pick on, easier to allude to, especially when attempting to explain the impetus behind the HEALTH album. I mean, really, is there even one? An impetus, I mean?
Let’s meet halfway. If, in the rigorous binary of their structures, HEALTH seem pinned to exploiting extremes, then they nail that conceit fucking down. Contradiction exists as an illusion, in the barriers they set for themselves (those brick walls, right?) and then dishevel in twenty-eight minutes. The pristine roll and threadbare hi-hat that serve as a base for “Girl Attorney” are only obscured by the titanium wall of guitar that gouges at the track from every corner. Or try to find the discernibly human wails, the organic sirens that beg for mercy beneath and between the feedback and radio static that butcher “Zoothorns.” Similarly, check the androgynous Boris vocals that trip, sometimes half a step and sometimes a full, behind the growling soap opera climb of “Perfect Skin.” Frankly, traditional beauty is buried to the hilt here, but uncovering it is something of an ecstatic experience; pain and pleasure toe-to-toe, does one slinky arpeggio beneath the holler of squall even matter?
Don’t tag it as a contradiction. Call it symmetry. HEALTH is mostly a noise record that rewards close listening, and close listening can hurt. It’s also a noise record with a cute banana sticker on top, synths, handclaps, and mellow chants straight earned by the staccato clatter before and around them, making the loud louder and the visceral wetter. So the last fourth of the album all but drowns the screeling industry that seemed to previously characterize HEALTH and confines it in jabs. Thus, “Glitter Pills,” a fantastically annoying dance slap, makes meticulous sense, somehow absorbing the aromas of HEALTH’s forebears -- influences, contemporaries, instruments, previous tracks -- into concision, allowing a sweet rhythm to follow unhindered into a sleepy dual coda.
Unfortunately, a bit of what follows is “Lost Time,” that lapse in balance more Liars (2007) b-side than satisfying cap. Just an afterthought is all, but a downer in every sense of the word, hard to overcome because it slyly addles the symmetry HEALTH’s already built. So, there you go: “Lost Time” is the album’s contradiction, the first time it truly lags and lets the cats out of the bag, the only time its machinations and monotonous dynamics and same-y vocals show bare.
Then again, the breathless highs of HEALTH demand mirror lows. So maybe everything does settle into a pattern.
Dom Sinacola :: 21 November 2007