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Hella - Concentration Face/Homeboy

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Artist: Hella

Album: Concentration Face/Homeboy

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Jan. 11, 2006

For Hella, the divide between recording and performance is greater than for the average band. On tape, their music is intricately layered with dense 8-bit electronics over spastic drumming. In person, Hella is an even more spastic drumming behemoth with heavy, repetitive guitar work underneath. This dual personality has been hinted at in past releases (especially their 2003 EPs Bitches Ain’t Shit But Good People and Total Bugs Bunny on Wild Bass), but nowhere has it been laid as bare as on Concentration Face/Homeboy. However, unlike their last back-slashed album, Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard, this set thankfully features guitarist Spencer Seam and drummer Zach Hill working together to productive ends.

If you’ve never seen Hella live, the Concentration Face DVD will be a revelation. While their CDs may suggest just how powerful a drummer Zach Hill truly is, it’s only live that the depth of his insanity is revealed. Imagine for a moment the combination of every Keith Moon fill with Tony Williams’ sense of evading the beat. Now speed up the tape and you’ll have an accurate representation of Hill’s modus operandi. When I saw them a few years back, their next-to-last song was a 15+ minute relentless freakout in which Hill’s playing never abated once; and after the song ended, he proceeded to chug an entire gallon jug of water. This live DVD of their 2004 Japanese tour documents similar feats of madness/endurance, including copious amounts of blood, sprained ankles from playing so fast, and other playing-induced injuries that you would really only expect to see on a football field. Basically, Hill slows down for nothing (except to look at his Japanese surroundings. The parts of the DVD that aren’t concert footage read like Hella’s take on Lost in Translation).

What I realized from watching the DVD, though, is that in concert, Hella reverses the traditional instrumental roles. Seam’s guitar does have some melodic and chordal functions, but its primary purpose is to provide a rhythmic backdrop for Hill’s drumming. Because his kit is immaculately tuned (or detuned as the case may be) and he utilizes every corner of it, Hill’s playing is actually the melodic driving force of the band. Seam also never overplays, using simple vaguely tonal riffs, never crowding the sonic space.

Therein lies the fundamental problem with Hella’s current studio setup - Seam has become so obsessed with Nintendo and Atari sounds that he isn’t content until all you can hear is a different electronic splatter every fraction of a second. And with Hill doing the same thing with his drum kit, the music on Homeboy becomes so compact and relentless that there is no room to breathe. I liked it better when they made basic ultra-complicated compositions with just guitar and drums. The electronics clutter the mix, making this almost unlistenable in a single sitting despite being about half an hour long. The last few minutes of the final track reach the proper balance and is actually a really fantastic slab of prog rock that makes you wonder why everything else on the disc is necessary. And while there’s no disputing Hella’s musical relevance, I hope they find a way to properly channel their live fury without resorting to mere clutter.

By Dan Ruccia

Other Reviews of Hella

Hold Your Horse Is

Total Bugs Bunny on Wild Bass

The Devil Isn't Red

Church Gone Wild / Chirpin' Hard



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View all articles by Dan Ruccia

Find out more about 5 Rue Christine

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