Review Summary: The first form of Hella is both extremely important and superior to their later sound. And it's awesome.
This is my first review, so I decided that it would be most comfortable to review Hold Your Horse Is because it is one of my personal favorite albums. Also, I’m extremely scared of how much I actually know about music in general compared to others, but I feel pretty relaxed when it comes to good old Hella (and Zach Hill- my one, true God, as I am a drummer).
To start, it’s somewhat redundant to say, but Hella is a band who’s sound changes drastically from album to album. However, there is a certain cohesive feel to all their albums whether older or more recent that can help you to realize that, yes, I am listening to Hella. That cohesion between all of their albums was created on their first, and what I believe to be their best album, Hold Your Horse Is.
The technicality on this album is the most significant feature through every song, especially in Zach Hill’s frantic, unique approach to drumming. I’m not sure if it’s only my mind being more directed to listening to the percussion in music, but it seems that Zach’s beats take the lead over the guitar of Spencer Seim for the majority of the album. This DOES NOT at all mean that the guitar work lacks at all (plenty of two-handed tapping, interesting melodies, etc), but rather that it is the perfect fit for Zach’s style of drumming. The two blend together perfectly to overcome the option of having a vocalist for the album, instead being entirely instrumental.
An interesting and somewhat obvious characteristic of Hold Your Horse Is resides in the fact that the extremely technical playing of the two members’ instruments is usually found in a very basic song structure. Though obviously this album isn’t accessible to mass amounts of listeners, as would a pop band, the simple structure of the songs mixed with the advanced musicianship allows it to be deeply interesting while still being able to hold someone’s attention. What I’m trying to say is that I love The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute, but a 70-minute prog-epic is terribly hard to sit through compared to the moderate length and quirky appeal of the songs off of Hold Your Horse Is. Now, it’s time for a short run through of the album, track-by-track.
The D. Elkan (0:43)
The intro to the album, unlike any of the other songs on it. It’s very short, containing the synth-based “Nintendo” sound found more on one of their later releases, Chirpin Hard.
Biblical Violence (3:03)
The abrupt end of The D. Elkan leads into the explosion of this song, and the true essence of Hella is revealed. This spazzy intro track is a good example of how Zach’s drumming can seem to dominate their sound. This song holds a special place in my heart as it was the first Hella song I had ever heard.
Been a Long Time Cousin (3:50)
Somehow, the this track exceeds the frantic nature of Biblical Violence, and Zach Hill has said that it’s the hardest song for him to play. The song is unrelenting in its speed and rhythm until around 2:30, the happiest part of the album rejoices in an upbeat section of the song that I can’t help but feel the need to jump around during it.
Republic of Rough and Ready (3:44)
A favorite of many Hella fans, it begins and is based around some of the most memorable chords played by Spencer on the album. This song seems to have more of an epic feel to it while cutting back on the usual quirkiness.
Another memorable part is found in the intro of this song, and it is also notably slower than the usual attack of Hella’s style. But then, soon after, your thrown back into the hurricane of guitar and drums.
Brown Metal (3:54)
This is probably the most different song stylistically on the album, and to me sort of serves as an extended interlude between the first and second half of the album. Here, Spencer uses a large amount of speedy tremolo picking while Zach races against him using mainly cymbals first and then snare.
Cafeteria Bananas (3:41)
The song starts with a sample of what sounds to be like a Native American echoing a tribal call, and then a whole new song full of chaotic rhythms and rolls across Hill’s drum set begins once again. This track holds the spot as my personal favorite.
City Folk Sitting, Sitting (7:06)
The longest song on the album requires the most patience to listen to, which includes the robotic mechanics of a usual Hella song, but then ventures into what seems to be like jam material.
Better Get a Broom! (4:20)
Though not as notable as other earlier tracks on the album, this song serves as a sufficient closer to the album, ending nice and extremely spasmodic.
I highly advise Hold Your Horse Is for anyone looking into Hella for the first time because it is the most accessible, and what I believe to be, the best representation of Hella heard across all of their albums.