Zach Hill
Astrological Straits


2.0
poor

Review

by Nick Greer EMERITUS
August 14th, 2008 | 53 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Zach Hill solo work is to Hella as David Lynch is to Steven Spielberg, but that doesn't mean it's good.

Grand, assumptive statements are not the most professional way to go about writing, but I'm going to say it: Zach Hill is one of (if not the most) prolific and talented drummers in contemporary music. His primary project, Hella, developed a new dialect of math rock that thrived on his spastic, off-kilter sense of rhythm accents as well as his hard, pounding style. His drumming in Team Sleep helped redefine the way trip hop works. Instead of molasses-slow beats over trippy, glitchy backgrounds and flaccid singing, Team Sleep developed an alternate style that used post-rock and post-punk to expand what trip hop could be. A huge part of that development was Hill's varied and flavorful drumming. In addition, he has collaborated with many artists that are considered avant garde including Marnie Stern, Rob Crow of Pinback, Chino Moreno of Deftones, and Mick Barr. Now, fans are being presented with Hill's first solo album, Astrological Straits, a strange, noisy, and psychedelic ride through Hill's wildest ideas.

However, Hill's wildest ideas aren't necessarily beats or drum kit orchestrations (in the past his "trash cymbal" concept of stacking 3-4 torn-up cymbals to get a highly brittle, sharp sound has been romanticized by fans), but are coming from other instruments, and the large-scale arrangement of the album. Sure, the drumming is virtuostic, strange, and interesting, but the other instruments are what separate this album from Hella's later work, which evolved beyond mathy drum and bass tomfoolery to embrace noise-rock and indie more. The vocals on this album are really compressed and monotonous sounding like a strangely spastic drone on top of the drumming. The guitar-work is slightly reminiscent of Spencer Seim's from Hella in that there are a lot of moments of tremolo picking, but here there are strange slides and electronic, microtonal blurs that set this sound apart. In addition, the keyboards and synthesized sounds on this album are various and weird. Knowing how distinctive and odd Hella's new sound is, consider how off-beat the sound of Astrological Straits is when I claim this analogy: Steven Spielberg is to David Lynch as Hella is to Zach Hill solo work. Sort of like how Toby Driver claimed that his solo work was to develop ideas that were too "out-there" for Kayo Dot, despite the fact that Kayo Dot is one of the most singular acts in music today.

So this album is fucking weird and sounds like Hella on mescaline, but does that mean it's any good? Yes, but also no, no, and no. The yes moments come from Hill either embracing pop idioms, or just shredding out on his drum set, instead of getting "experimental." "Dark Art" is possibly the most pop-driven song on the album and succeeds for it. The main synthesizer reprise sounds like a circus melody, and when combined with Hill's vocal wailing and driving 6/8 beat, creates a supercharged anthem that is catchy despite all of the production and songwriting oddities embedded in the song. The next track "Keep Strong and Carry On" also seems a little more traditionally driven, and though the song nicely spirals out of control about midway through, the concluding chaos is made relevant by the minute or two of consonance that preceded it, creating a balanced and entertaining composition. The other type of song that works out on this album are Hill's epic freakouts, that are notably drum-centric, that is, the other instrumentals don't distract from the awesome drumming. "Uhuru," despite the fact that the first half of the song is just a giant drum solo, is really engaging throughout. The solo has a narrative arc that is very listenable and the song as a whole benefits from the same two-faced structure that "Keep Strong and Carry On" employs. The final track on the album, "Astrological Straits," is shaped like a prog epic, and the catchier sections are alternated with challenging, percussive romps. When Hill is on, he's on, producing scintillating tracks that are engaging on both an immediate, visceral level as well as a cerebral, mindfuck level.

But with any high-risk, high-return situation, when one fails, the results are devastating, and unfortunately, Astrological Straits fails more than it succeeds. Some tracks are nearly unlistenable. The opener, "Iambic Strays," is like listening to a 12" record played at 45 rpm, with added "noise." There are so many non-functional blips and bleeps on that song, it listens like nails on a chalkboard more than anything. "Toll Road" is another curious track, whose use of circus-like synth is more annoying than effective. A few guitar riffs on the song bring it out of the doldrums, only to be brought down by the horrendous, repetitious bridge at the end of the track. "Stoic Logic," though proud owner of one of the more vicious drum performances on the album, is little more than that, with vocals that just pick away at the luster of the drums. And that's the story of Astrological Straits; Zach Hill is a talented drummer, with some great ideas, but certain elements of the album just tarnish all of the positives. This album is even unlistenable at moments. For all the new territory it explores, it can't get by on just being creative or experimental, especially when held up against Hill's brilliant work in projects like Hella and Team Sleep. At the end of the day, I'd only recommend this to die hard fans of his previous projects, and even then, really guys?



Recent reviews by this author
Deftones Diamond EyesThrice Beggars
dredg The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusionmaudlin of the Well Part the Second
Mastodon Crack the SkyeTrophy Scars Bad Luck
user ratings (52)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
related reviews

Face Tat
trending other albums

Syro

You're Dead!

Our Love

Virgins

Comments:Add a Comment 
Jom
Staff Reviewer
August 14th 2008


2688 Comments


Real solid review, but disappointing to find out that it's not that great. I just have one quick question:

Sort of like how Toby Driver claimed that his solo work was to develop that were too "out-there" for Kayo Dot, despite the fact that Kayo Dot is one of the most singular acts in music today.

Unless I'm badly misreading this sentence, I think you're missing a noun somewhere (e.g. ... his solo work was to develop [ideas?] that were too "out-there" for Kayo Dot...).

ninjuice
August 14th 2008


6760 Comments


I don't get the summary....
Lynch is a member of Spielberg??

Jom
Staff Reviewer
August 14th 2008


2688 Comments


He elucidates his analogy within the review.

Myrrhman
August 14th 2008


83 Comments


i dont get it?!!?!?!!

ninjuice
August 14th 2008


6760 Comments


ah I see now.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
August 14th 2008


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Good looks Jom. I had chopped up that sentence a bunch and forgot to reinsert "ideas."

StrizzMatik
August 14th 2008


3206 Comments


Hmmm. Probably won't dig it. I do love Hill's work with Hella though. On an unrelated side note, check out Trocadero, Nick.This Message Edited On 08.14.08

Digging: Lagwagon - Hang

DFelon204409
Emeritus
August 14th 2008


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Sure thing dude. Ya, I'd veer more towards Tera Melos and Planets than this part of Hella's sound.

honourosis
August 14th 2008


63 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

yeah i didn't really dig this either, but it has some pretty interesting/catchy melodies in a few places. unfortunately the album suffers from the same thing hella does, which is a ton of unnecessary fillers.

The Jungler
August 14th 2008


4827 Comments


i never got around to listening to this, and i don't know that i will anytime soon. outside of Hella, i don't know much Zach Hill stuff, even though he is a ridiculous drummer, so i think i will get some other (better) stuff before this.

Myrrhman
August 14th 2008


83 Comments


i wish i could make a drumset sound like i'm kicking it over every time i play!

DFelon204409
Emeritus
August 14th 2008


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Ya Jungler, check out Team Sleep. That's prime material.

iarescientists
August 15th 2008


5863 Comments


does this album have a sample of INLAND EMPIRE at the beginning, i only listen to albums that sample INLAND EMPIRE at the beginning.

Abaddon2005
August 15th 2008


684 Comments


I kind of agree with this review but would still give it a slightly higher rating. Maybe it also just needs time to grow, not sure.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
August 15th 2008


15743 Comments


zach savage says: im irrelevantThis Message Edited On 08.15.08

Digging: Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

yesway
August 15th 2008


5 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

wow! this is probably the most inaccurate , simple minded review i've EVER READ! i'm not even a die hard fan but i know a classic record when i hear one!
DONT PAY ATTENTION TO THIS REVIEW ITS WAY OUT OF TOUCH ! BUY THIS RECORD!

SHOOTME
August 15th 2008


2393 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

lol whut?

honourosis
August 15th 2008


63 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

noway

embroglio
August 15th 2008


219 Comments


this basically sounds like church gone wild 2. zach hill needs to stick to drumming; he is too much of a one-trick pony. let me play some dissonant synth riffs, add an off-rhythm glitch beat and muttering vocals to the background and play some really fast drums over it! yes!

yesway
August 15th 2008


5 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

strongly disagree. first of all comparing hella to spielberg is the most laughable thing i've ever heard! if your gonna make analogies get them right instead of backwards! if anything, hella is lynch and this is kubrick!i agree church gone wild was a mess but this record sounds nothing like church gone wild ! thats a very very lazy comparison . i actually doubt any of you have really listened to this . this is future music ! not for bias sheep that follow the flock and always will ! you'll love it when it's "cool" to love it.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy