Review Summary: No moment of change, with every regret.
Just when you think you’ve got HEALTH figured out, they go and move the goalposts on you when you’re not looking. There are lots of bands out there with a proclivity for shaking up their sound, almost to the point of using their desires as a marketing tool. This is quite a wonted practice within the industry today, but it’s far less common to come across a band like HEALTH who incorporate their capricious ideas with a nuanced and organic handling. Anyone who has followed the band’s recording patterns will know that after every studio release, fans are treated to a remix album filled with reinterpreted songs from the band’s latest offering – a compilation album made up of eclectic artists who put their own spin on things. These releases in and of themselves have garnered the same kind of adulation and hype their studio albums typically receive, and for good reason. DISCO
is more than just a supplementary bonus package, this project sheds light on a lot of up-and-coming artists as well as bringing a thoroughly altered and engaging perspective on the band’s original versions – that’s what makes them so appealing and fun. Yet, it should come as no surprise at this point that the band, given their track record for subverting expectations, have made DISCO4 :: Part I
the antithesis of its founding concepts.
By the time Death Magic
had arrived in 2015, the band was starting to show off their long-developed and utterly formidable production, which was now able to materialise on any lofty ideas the band had envisaged. However, it was both DISCO3
and Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear
that refined the model, pressed out the bugs and thus created two benchmark albums: a brace of fully evolved visions that met their fruition after years of trial and error and hard work. Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear
’s sound still has plenty of options to choose from going forward, but blending Death Magic
with soundtrack-heavy elements and their abrasive roots meant it brought an all-encompassing catharsis to the project. As for the DISCO
series, it managed to peak at DISCO3
; with the aid of their monstrous recording methods, they perfected the remix motif and added a host of original tracks to complement the album. Even though this isn’t necessarily the case – as John Famiglietti has previously stated that today’s musical climate makes remix tracks a redundant, messy and unviable proposition – it’s somewhat ironic that DISCO3
feels somewhat conclusive in nature. As such, DISCO4 :: Part I
rightly or wrongly veers away from its founding grounds to explore greener pastures, bringing with it a new type of energy and a host of pros and cons that are entirely their own.
DISCO4 :: Part I
wastes no time at all in blowing the gates off the hinges with opening track “CYBERPUNK 220.127.116.11.” (the band’s only standalone track on the album), a serene, intensely poignant and mercilessly catchy number that mirrors the mood of 2020 perfectly. It’s a lush, ethereal journey caught in a deluge of moist guitar notes, a linchpin of galloping rhythms over BJ’s tribalistic drum patterns, and Jake’s dispirited croons. The real draw to the song though is the synth work which billows across the spectrum, pervading any unoccupied space with its alluring beauty before slowly descending into the depths of its own abyss. It’s an incredibly well composed piece, stacked with razor-sharp hooks and melodies that sound like something off Death Magic
, if it was completely doused in medication. Indeed, if there is one aspect HEALTH have really taken in their stride since Max Payne 3 OST
, it’s honing in on and magnifying those heart-rending elements associated with that score. “CYBERPUNK 18.104.22.168.” is a hard representation of that and it only makes me want to hear a new album from them more. Proceeding that track though, it’s not as cut and dry to critique. I will say right off the bat; DISCO4 :: Part I
does an impeccable job of reigning in a consistent tone from this very diverse cast of musicians, but ultimately, given the manifold of styles and the sheer scope of the project, some songs are inevitably going to brush listeners up the wrong way.
That being said however, with the exception of “POWER FANTASY” (100 Gecs) sounding ill-distinguished and stitched together in tone – as well as the arbitrary 16-bit electronic breakdown rupturing the cohesion further – every track feels and sounds surprisingly well developed and expertly handled. “BODY/PRISON” (Perturbator) captures the zeitgeist of 80’s arcade machines everywhere – a track that glides on a retrofuture-synth cruise control and has an unflinchingly cool demeanour while it’s doing it. “INNOCENSE” (Youth Code) nails the hard-edged electro-punk style Combichrist are so well known for, and the delicate gossamer surrounding “DELICOUS APE”’s (Xiu Xiu) gorgeous post-rock backdrop really heightens the haunted, brittle vocal performances being conveyed by Jamie and Jake. It can’t be understated that the sheer volume of genre-breeding here is staggering. You will wade through the dense, sludgy filth of “FULL OF HEALTH” (Full of Hell) – a beauty and the beast track that hears Jake and Dylan juxtaposed at the forefront of its grinding warfare – only to come out of it hearing the vibrant, diaphanous melancholy of “COLORS” (The Soft Moon).
What makes it all work synergistically, and stops it from being a horribly incoherent mess tonally, is HEALTH’s familiar MO wisely lays down the foundations to a song before putting their chosen artists through the ringer. Even the less immediate numbers eventually grow on you after repeated listens, revealing the gamut of their own ambitions. “HATE YOU” (JPEGMAFIA), for instance, opens up as a full-on, hold my beer trap song that was difficult to digest at first, but after a few listens it soon became apparent that JPEGMAFIA’s opening bars set up, and even complimented, the emotive and agonising ambient swells that took hold of the reins from there on. By the third act of the song it had somehow metamorphosed into a “what if HEALTH implemented trap into their sound?”
kind of scenario. At the very least the results are interesting and proficient, whether they accommodate to your taste buds all the time or not, but I do feel HEALTH does an excellent job in working with the other artists to find the sweet spot in all this superlative experimentation, regardless.
Overall, one could rightfully argue that DISCO4 :: Part I
misses the point of what a DISCO
album is supposed to be. After all, even I have to admit it’s a little disappointing not hearing Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear
’s tracks repurposed from a different angle, but then this is HEALTH we are talking about here – three shrewd, fearless visionaries who embrace change without a modicum of anxiety in the process. Make no mistake; this might be a very different offering to what previous DISCO
albums have all been about, but the high-quality and standards remain firmly intact. By rights, on paper these songs should only work as self-contained singles and shouldn’t even be put together onto one album, but the band have done a sterling job in making it all work functionally and with a pragmatic mindset. Despite a couple of stylistic clashes here and there, DISCO4 :: Part I
is a coherent, well-crafted and exciting experiment that paves the way for future DISCO
//VINYL(STANDARD BLACK/LTD BLUE)
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