Review Summary: ...in which Zach Hill stops daring you to listen to his music, and actually invites you to.
Between his drumming with Hella and Team Sleep, and his collaborations with artists such as Marnie Stern, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Nick Reinhart, and Wavves just to name a few, Zach Hill has been a busy, busy man as of late. Still, even with the seemingly innumerable projects Hill already has his hands in, he managed to find time to put together Astrological Straits a couple of years ago. Astrological Straits, was touted as being innovative, forward thinking, bombastic, relentless, etc... and while it was definitely all of those things and more, it was also, to put it bluntly, way too long and kind of annoying. While the album did have a few saving graces, the bulk of the material presented resembled little more than an highway traffic disaster, as Hill's spastic drum work ran head on into walls of distorted, nonsensical vocals, overbearing syntehsizers, crackpot guitar doodling, and countless out of place bleeps, bloops, squelches, and buzzes. Thankfully, Hill's newest offering, Face Tat, makes it a point to succeed where Astrological Straits failed...most of the time.
Where Astrological Straits opened up with Iambic Strays, a tune in which each separate instrumental track seemed to be fighting desperately for the audience's attention, Face Tat kicks off with Memo to the Man, a rather glorious romp through chiming keys and off kilter, staccato drum stabs and vocal lines that effortlessly morph into what I can only describe as a sort of warped latin conga beat. It's about halfway into the second track, The Primitives Talk, which is replete with aggressive hi-hat work, hypnotic vocals, swelling synthetic bass, and ethereal synth lines, that it becomes apparent just how much more controlled and focused Face Tat is musically than it's predecessor. Not only do the pieces actually feel like legitimate songs rather than drum exercises covered up with intrusive noise, but the bulk of the album is actually fun to listen to. The bridge in The Primitives Talk is one of the coolest bits of music I've heard all year, and the beat behind Dizzy from the Twins is one of the most exciting and driving drumbeats Hill has produced in recent memory. Still, Face Tat isn't without it's faults, and though they're far less numerous than those found on Astrological Straits, they are more or less in the same vein. Tracks like Jackers and The Sacto Smile present little more than rambling percussion, distorted white noise, incomprehensible shouting, and swirling torrents of irritating electronics, Ex-Ravers suffers simply from being way too fuzzy for it's own good, and the title track just resembles a lackluster Hella b-side. Still, if the listener can make it all the way to the end, they're rewarded with with the Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies and swelling keys of Second Life.
So, is Face Tat more accessible and laid back than Astrological Straits was? Not quite. However, it is
much more focused, and a much more rewarding listen (most of the time). After a few spins, you might even find yourself inadvertently tapping out the beat to Memo to the Man, or even humming the melodic little vocal/synth hook found in Dizzy from the Twins. Still, there are a few instances where it feels like the rest of the music is being beaten into a corner by Hill's overtly spastic drum work, which could actually be considered an accomplishment on Hill's part when you take into consideration just how overbearing and distorted the other musical elements can actually be.