"HEALTH music can be harsh and grating, of course, but also sensually smooth and sexy and electronic and also metallic and all Fodderstompfy." -- LA Weekly "LA's newest adjunct professors of art punk." -- Skyscraper "Los Angeles' answer to New York's avant garde noise scene." -- CMJ New Music Report By now you're likely familiar with the (barely) contained chaos of HEALTH. The band's debut album (September 2008, Lovepump United) and relentless touring with the likes of Crystal Castles and White Williams has cemented their status as one of the most exciting bands in independent music--publications like XLR8R, The Fader, and Pitchfork agree. In addition to evoking grand hyperboles from every blog under the sun, HEALTH's album inspired several other musicians to match the band's creativity. They reimagined, recut, and remixed, and the result is HEALTH//DISCO. Featuring remixes from Acid Girls, CFCF, Pink Skull, Narctrax, and more, these tracks take HEALTH's ethereal chanting, screeching noise, and gauzy atmosphere and forcefully apply them to the dance floor.
[Lovepump United; 2008]
Funniest band name ever (this week only). It's so undangerous and sub-ironics that it seems to circle back around to being scary, snide, and nihilist. I crack up every time I'm getting to see them live and someone wheezes any variation on "I cannot wait to get my fill of...HEALTH!" (How did these guys resist-- especially since, like certain fellow Californians Zach Hill and Spencer Seim, they share a love for maniac percussion and Nintendosonics-- giving themselves the pseudo-metal moniker Hellth?)
HEALTH's self-titled debut earned them sniggering sobriquets like "Boredoms Jr" and "Diet Liars," yet among what kept the admittedly derivative album interesting was the tension produced by its attempts to artfully reconcile dance/digital elements with rock/noise textures (not to mention its ambient fringes and the occasional blotch of straight-up pop). The resulting sound was skeletal, adrenal, and clangorous. Listeners inclined to attribute narrative structure to otherwise chaotically sequenced albums could even consider the debut as bearing a tale of one musical mode's victory over-- or surrender to-- another: The electro-clubbily titled and (eventually) executed "Glitter Pills" was followed by the lurching (dying?) rock of "Perfect Skin", and then the platter closed with the tribal, clipped-Gregorian funereality of "Lost Time".
Which brings us to this remix album that feels like an argument: HEALTH's discography is here to mend those leftover rifty, provincial scenes where the guitar dorks and electro goobers still get aesthetically territorial at each others' keggers. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw opener the Death Set put a crowd of (to safely generalize) dance-kids awaiting a Bonde Do Role and Villains card on edge by screaming "Come on, you motherfuckers, this is a punk rock show!" While, yup, the Death Set remix dance tracks and all, their own stuff is hooky hardcore, in some ways a better bridge from Death From Above 1979 into MSTRKRFT than that, ugh, DFA1979 remix album (plus all them groups are/were kinda dickish on stage). What I'm trying to say is that the overtly dancefloor DISCO/DISCO+ is a whole other thing from HEALTH's previous output, and yet, it works.
HEALTH ran so lean that you wanted to offer it some smoked gouda and cherry pop, so one might expect a rework-roster of blog-friendly artisans to supply the cheese and, well, coke. But DISCO is that rare, not-disposable such collection, largely justifying the charming pomp of the band-- printing their project names in allcaps, the tendency to issue artistic statements, etc. Of DISCO, they decreed: "It is not about market saturation or crossover appeal. It is purely about the music, and we are proud of it. This is an album, and meant to be listened to as one. The goal of this record is not only to present all these songs at once, but also to ensure that they are not forgotten in the constantly updating, content-hungry internet music world." Okay, they've hitched their viral sincerity to their synergy-savvy; just as Crystal Castles gave HEALTH's profile an alley-oop (and like hip-hop and r&b's infamous, infinite "featuring"s), they're boosting this release's electronic acts, to the point of listing them as members in a collective on DISCO's separate-from-regular-ol'-HEALTH MySpace page. And don't get my wallet started on the website for HEALTH FASHION, your mailorder source for American Apparel V-necks boasting pastel mandates.
The bandmembers' names don't appear in this review because I am taking the group up on its insistence that it's not concerned with the pretense/spotlight of individual utterance-- in fact, I kind of wish they, sigh, took it further by wearing masks and adopting glyphic pseudonyms. This dance collage may often push the vocals to the front of the mix much more than its source material did, but those droned-in, genderless, ghost-tech vox are what make HEALTH seem both disembodied and like a superorganism in the first place. The concept/gimmick of identity is further shattered by the diversity of the remixers' approaches; DISCO is like an Oz or Wonkan chocolate factory of beat styles, all proving the point that drum machines can pummel just as cathartically, and as fetchingly, as forearms.
Some of the remixers employ only one processed and reverbed "clonk!" from HEALTH, yet others use the original work's entire structure as an undergirding. DISCO's basic arc is: begin close to home, drift (albeit aggressively) through decades of electronic music, rest for a metronomic eight-minute piece by C.L.A.W.S. to wonder what the point of life is, and backtrack to a computer simulation of HEALTH's OCD assault for a finale. Amateurish DJs might score respect by playing the Acid Girls remixes, because their constant, exciting shifts will leave the impression that you're blending multiple tracks. Thrust Lab's epic "Problem Is" comes off as somehow funny and ominous, tonally coasting from Vangelis' Blade Runner score into Giorgio Moroder into some Weather Report fusion, landing on (duh) M83. CFCF's take on "Triceratops" picks up that dairy product and trumps it by adding Oldfield/Exorcist-y "Tubular Bells" jive, and some of that Steely Dan shit that Adult Swim's Tim and Eric mock/celebrate, all with a sick pulse reminiscent of so many 80s horror movie jams, including Hot Ice's "Theme From Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D".
The bonus material on DISCO+ is less of-a-piece, but just as varied and deserving of widescale distribution. Nastique throws the classically stilted "Blue Monday" beat under HEALTH's prehistoric-squawk bus, Bearded Baby re-remixes Crystal Castles' (also included here) HEALTH remix, and Captain Ahab mashes the band up with Foot Village's wellness-centered "Protective Nourishment". Only DISCO+ is as playful as the cover art's promise of "ALL THE HITS" in an awesomely humorless font. So, forfeit the urge to hold a conviction-o-meter up to these rattle-come-latelies' homages to Swans, Ruins, and Lightning Bolt. DISCO streamlines HEALTH's analog-trance thickets without letting the beats betray the atmospherics. Never merely meager, this project delivers, both when you're waving your orgy-snorkel all blotto on-the-town, and for a soundtrack to serious rumination at your midday desk of harsh reality. None of the parties involved are inventing, or reinventing, anything, necessarily, but damn if they aren't tinkering their asses off.
- William Bowers, May 23, 2008
(Lovepump United; 2008)
So if HEALTH’s 2007 self-titled debut was rock conceived in a lonely cell, occasionally bashing itself against the walls, the echo of its nihilistic grunts serving as its only conversation, this is when it downs some ketamine and tries to make friends with itself (unsuccessfully). But a journey to the back of one’s skull can be lonely, so HEALTH have enlisted the aid of a small army of their synth-wielding comrades to transform the shrieking guitars and tribal minimalism of their debut into a frantic race through a pastel wonderland.
It may take a careful ear to discern this as an album comprised of remixes of “all the hits” from HEALTH’s debut (which may be the point really). At times, HEALTH’s skeleton is almost completely obscured, vaguely familiar elements cropping up briefly and quickly dissolving into the ever-moving compositions, grains of sand in a much larger pane of stained glass. But many of the synthesized elements that alternately frame and displace HEALTH’s instrumentation and vocals are arguably better than anything on HEALTH; no small feat, at that. The fluorescent splashes on Nosaj Thing’s “Tabloid Sores” are a force in and of themselves, accented only by the disembodied intonations of the original. A handful of other tracks take this approach and could be classified as re-imaginings more than remixes (which may be the point, again).
In this vein, DISCO ventures pretty far down the rabbit hole; the surrealist bent is apparent from the get-go. For the first of Acid Girls’ reworking of “Triceratops,” backwards drums escalate, washing over repetitious, ghostly vocals that transform into a head-splitting guitar riff soon to be displaced by a bleeding, hallucinogenic fuzz, then stiffening and spiraling into catastrophic euphoria before collapsing in a heap of exhaustion: a manic-depressive episode condensed into a five-minute tantrum. The opener serves as a microcosm of the whole album—that is, its soup sporadically tempers aggressive propulsion with sparser, meditative sections to allow heart rates to lessen, building anticipation for the next bit of catharsis. DISCO‘s appeal is built on such release, and though its frantic pace is the essential component of its success, a track like C.L.A.W.S.’s remix of “Lost Time,” composed solely of clipped vocals, spacey drums, and ambient blips, provides the album with crucial contrast, ensuring it doesn’t combust and disintegrate before the last cut. So, yes, Pink Skull’s “Heaven” is the foil that makes all this explosive exigency so dazzlingly confrontational, that makes Pictureplane’s version of “Lost Time” seem even more vivacious in comparison. Most of the songs here feel insistent because they just fucking are.
For all its maximalist glory, DISCO is remarkably nuanced, minor elements seamlessly shifting in and out of frame behind the compositions’ vibrant foregrounds. As awe-inspiring as the angular stomp of Narctrax’s “Heaven” or Crystal Castles’ rendition of “Crimewave” are, the environments beneath the immediate elements of these songs become fascinating upon subsequent listens: always deconstructing, refurbishing, and swapping out, never settling into complacency or tedium.
As Curses!’s “Perfect Skin,” a disorienting, cool breeze in contrast to the rabid delirium of the music that precedes it, brings the album to a close, exaggerated heaving turns to sighs of relief, hues return from their oversaturated state, limbs feel numb and the room sinks back into equilibrium. It’s just that kind of experience, something alternately enthralling and exhaustive, some unholy marriage of dissonance and infectiousness. It may seem contradictory to describe music composed on a laptop as “affecting,” but the whirring electronics and drum machine magic on this album reach back even further than their source material, taking Henry Rollins’ confusion and Johnny Rotten’s sneer and cobbling it into some faux-organic heap of boundless energy and dithyrambic emotion, its weight felt not only in the density of its drum hits but in the breadth of its dramatic nature.
31 May 2008