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Hella - Hold Your Horse Is

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Artist: Hella

Album: Hold Your Horse Is

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: May. 8, 2002

The 8-bit intro to Hella’s debut release, while initially it might seem out of place or just childishly indulgent, in fact oddly fits as a prelude to an album that's as technically obsessed as a circuit board. The remainder of the songs consist of high-energy, intensely spastic math-rock that, as others have noted, is fairly astounding in effect when one considers that Hella has only two members, and few effects, over-production, or over-dubs. Zach Hill's drum work resembles Primus’ Herb the ginseng drummer in uncanny technical ability, tone, and stamina. Complementing this relentless rhythmic onslaught, Spencer Seim manages to match Hill’s power with frenzied clusters of notes from disparate registers of the guitar, a la Ian Williams. In fact there are moments where Hold Your Horse Is recollects Don Cab 3 or 4—with slightly less of the dynamic variety and shape between, and within, the songs. However, as mentioned, the guitarist manages to give the illusion of multiple instruments without the looping pedal.

Each track contains a slew of contrasting sections normally transpiring conversationally from dense almost out-of-time areas to 16th note mayhem that occasionally bleeds into white noise. "Republic Of Rough & Ready" exemplifies this dynamic with rhythmically grating areas, periodically interrupted with more subdued, yet driving beats. "1-800-Ghost-Dance" similarly blends squealing melodies from the guitar with harsh dissonant chords and rhythmic shifts. While "Biblical Violence" is the one that keeps listeners coming back for more, "Brown Metal" branches out into a kind of tech-rock march that can’t help but be infectiously catchy.

Despite all of this, Hella’s real innovation lies in the duo’s ability to subvert the functions of rhythm and melody throughout the album. That is to say, at times there’s almost a role reversal of the drummer and guitarist, with Hill taking the melodic function and Seim focusing on metrical guitar playing. This is a very subtle effect and comes off as almost anti-melodic, at least in the traditional sense, as the rhythm seems to digitize or encrypt the guitar’s melody. This occurs most notably in "City Folk Sitting, Sitting" and "Republic Of Rough & Ready", but you can hear elements of it throughout. Strikingly, it’s as if the band is attempting to self-consciously resist the creation of a too-palatable melodic structure. Sure enough, Hella is more for technical admirers and avid indie-rock clerics than the general listening audience. Nonetheless those who find the time to indulge their dense virtuosity will come away amazed and convinced, as I am, that these guys would be hella mind-blowing live.

I know it’s too easy, but hey, I had to get at least one of those jokes in there, right?

By Matt Kellard

Other Reviews of Hella

Total Bugs Bunny on Wild Bass

The Devil Isn't Red

Church Gone Wild / Chirpin' Hard

Concentration Face/Homeboy



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