Review Summary: Where we're going, we don't need roads.
Sporadic structures, odd melodies, a hostile soundscape: these are the key traits of HEALTH's 2007 debut LP, and a far cry from HEALTH's latest offering, Death Magic
. So different in fact, it's like comparing Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory
with Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica
. If one were to stumble upon Max Payne 3's "Tears" single and became intrigued to check out their discography - for more of the same high-octane electronics, drum beats and slickly garnished vocal melodies completing the bodywork of the song - HEALTH
would be a very grave and intimidating entry to begin with if they weren't into this kind of thing.
The album borders on avant-garde, with no real structure involved in the LP's near 29 minute run time. When you've only listened to HEALTH
a couple of times it first comes across as one long, experimental song. This alone stacks against the casual listener sticking with the album, but when you include the fact that - with the exception of "Perfect Skin" - Jake is almost completely mute on the record, and the most you'll get out of vocal work is a few elongated words, saturated in the band's trademark reverb dominated melancholy, it will no doubt create a daunting barrier for most people. It's a good job then that the band bring such an engaging level of interesting ideas to encompass an extremely unique sound. "Perfect Skin" is about as normal as this album gets, and is a slow, moody offering, where Jake delivers a haunting vocal performance in front of fuzzy, punchy bass, pounding drums and moody guitars. Semi-digestible tracks like "Crimewave" will hook you in, if only for the impressive display of rapid and energetically played drums that are being pulled to the forefront of the track. "Triceratops" has some catchy moments, and for a while, holds a somewhat conventional structure.
But this album isn't meant to follow a straight line, and if you're not familiar with this style of music, or your will isn't strong enough to sustain what HEALTH throw at you, you will probably hate this. The high pitched screams found on "Crimewave", "Tabloid Sores" and "Courtship", melded with screeching feedback from the guitars, will raise a few eyebrows, as they just jump out of nowhere. But the unpredictable, visceral and animal nature of HEALTH
is what makes it so damn interesting to listen to; you just never know where the songs are going to go next. The 29 minute length also ensures your attention is absolute throughout, because, blink, and you'll miss it. Its free-flowing nature makes it difficult to really pinpoint which songs are which, because it moves so fast in such a short amount of time, you find yourself trying to catch up to it.
BJ's drumming is the biggest asset to the band on here; he's always had a very distinct sound and style on all of HEALTH's records, and is the driving force on everything they create, but it's here where he's needed most. The drums are chaotic, blisteringly hard hits that stand you to attention from the moment the album opens up; "Crimewave" is a prime example of how he can go from slow, bulldozing punches, to unhinged, schizophrenic bursts of raw energy, and it leaves you in awe listening to it. The reverb guitars that are used so heavily these days are on here, albeit not quite as prevalent; Jake and Jupiter seem more focused on using effects on this outing, and they can create really big, atmospheric passages in songs like "Zoothorns" - or the Dust Brothers inspired sounds of "Glitter Pills". There's also a glimmer of the depressing tones of future works in the last two tracks of the album.
Overall, if you're looking at getting in to this band I'd suggest starting from Death Magic
and working your way down to this. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but it's not for everyone. The sporadic changes, redundance of structure and obscure vocal parts, for the majority of the LP, make it difficult to recommend to everyone. But if you go in half knowing what to expect, this has buckets of enjoyment to offer you.
Editions: Vinyl, C̶D̶, M̶P̶3̶
Special Edition: N/A