Illinois native/California resident Zac Nelson is a drummer by trade, and fills that chair as a member of both Who’s Your Favorite Son, God? and Prints. Ever the multi-tasker, though, he also finds the time to run rhythm (and everything else, really) as Hexlove, a rather expansive solo project in which he focuses on oft-overstuffed pop miniatures that always teeter on the brink of a perilous explosion.
The 11 tracks that make up Knew Abloom (Life’s Hood), Nelson’s first disc for the Holy Mountain label, sound like they were spilled to tape as quickly as the ideas behind them were birthed. Hexlove’s creativity is boundless for sure, and with his manic drumming often as the backbone, each song here rifles through bizarre lexicons of outsider pop, spasmodic free jazz, and endlessly expansive psych moves, cramming more into quick two-minute snatches than most modern psych-jammers manage to bequeath in a pair of album sides.
While much of the disc threatens to boil over its nervous energy, Nelson still has a knack for crafting generally gorgeous mood pieces that pastiche intuitive percussion and shimmering strings into the subliminally transcendent. Tracks like “Hold Her, Sees Crane” best exemplify the man’s particular strengths, as a staggered, melodic guitar line and constantly bounding percussion gradually work to a unified climax near the piece’s end.
In one sense, then, that’s a large part of Hexlove’s most successful trick – stacking opposing elements to see how many steps it takes to bring them together. It’s something he works just as capably on “Pepper Hurts,” as carnival-esque asides mingle with an insistently shifting rhythm. The two find a quick communion near the track’s end, only to give way to a nimble drumbeat and several different cuts of Nelson’s voice.
The clear highlights in all of this, however, are “Excepting Eternity in the Relationship” and “Excepting Eternity in the Stretch,” together a miniature two-part suite that finds Nelson relaxed enough to, at long last, give his multitude of ideas enough room to breathe. During the first part, the drums slacken their pace while the guitars laze about, providing a laconic counterpoint to the growing cacophony of multi-tracked voices that swell beneath. Decidedly more euphoric, the album closes on extraterrestrial droning and scattershot drums of “Stretch,” gradually working to a climax after a patient exploration of all possible intersections.
If there is something for which to fault Nelson on Knew Abloom, then maybe it’s his oft-restless spirit, one that seems to derail potentially great ideas after a scant minute or two. The album’s finest moments are undoubtedly its longest ones, those in which Hexlove manages to find the pulse in an inspirational piece of drumming or guitar and pull it out over a few minutes, exhausting possibilities across a number of different tonal and rhythmic variations. It’s a minor complaint, though, and one that doesn’t even remotely stop Knew Abloom from being a pretty great listen from a prodigiously talented dude.
By Michael Crumsho