Crate-Digging: Zach Hill – Face Tat

Crate-Digging embraces the weirdo tendencies in all.

(Sargent House, 2010)

Busy boy Zach Hill – of Hella, Goon Moon, The Ladies, Holy Smokes, and every other band you can think of – remains as busy as ever. He’s like a bee, this Hill. Busy busy busy, buzz buzz buzz. Flitting from band to band and guesting from album to album spreading pollen like it was going out of style. Artistic pollen that is. Pollen ready to germinate fields of glowing records swaying in the breeze under a blue spring sky. These amber waves of beautiful tunes stretch as far as the eye can see under the purple mountains’ majesty, bathed in a protective utopian wonder. And Zach Hill is the red, white, and blue twine that ties it all together. Your Zach Hill. Our Zach Hill. America’s Zach Hill.

Gosh, sorry about that, I’m back now. I was standing at attention, saluting nothing in particular at the end of that. I don’t know what came over me – I’m not prone to patriotic pronouncements (not that I’m opposed to them – USA! USA! …I’m doomed) and I don’t really have any American flags in sight. The closest thing I have are a couple of Philadelphia Phillies pennants on my office wall – I guess I don’t feel so bad saluting those. But man, I was going for that whole nature thing there and it turned into something else. Weird.

Natural. That sure doesn’t describe the Zach Hill experience at all. “Weird” does though. I’ll go with weird. Good too. You really can’t get yourself too comfortable listening to Face Tat, and that almost certainly is the purpose. Hill’s a drummer by trade, so why ruin a perfectly good record with convention when you can get away with maddening and intoxicating rhythmic marathons? There’s no reason to. And so Face Tat begins, with the start-stop “Memo to the Man,” a cascade of curdled tropicalia that refuses to allow you to predict where it will end up. The stutters streamline by the end, but anything resembling ordinary is fleeting. The vocals are buried, difficult to make out. And this is true throughout the album, as Hill cloaks his voice, sometimes in effects, sometimes in the mix, rarely emerging clearly enough to give a hint at the thought process.

Face Tat finds an artist with his freak flag unfurled, an ADHD-addled kid in a strobe-lit candy store, Ritalin long spilled as an afterthought at the door. Hill moves from one idea to the next quickly and with a strange ease, hijacking any sort of groove that emerges with mathematical polyrhythms and demanding it veers in the opposite direction. “Ex-Ravers” begins with a sickly pattern but shudders into focus in the clearest approximation of how a tweaked-out partygoer views the cold light of dawn. “Green Bricks,” as well as “Dizzy from the Twins,” lurch with seasick purpose to the rail before heaving over the side. But the playing is always precise and purposeful, as “Sacto Smile,” featuring a guest spot from Dean Spunt and Randy Randall of No Age, and “Total Recall” burn quickly and resolutely in hyperspeed. “Gross Sales” features Guillermo Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73, and incorporates breakbeats, a nice addition and what is probably Zach Hill’s favorite song (if I know drummers – and I don’t purport to!).

Hill is tireless, and Face Tat’s muscular athleticism is just the latest proof that the tricks he has up his sleeve are seemingly endless. He can even let up a bit too, as on noise experiment “Jackers” or the Pink Floyd-y closer “Second Life,” his “Eclipse” if you will. But it’s the buzzing synths, drilling guitars, and pounding drums are the main attraction, and the compositional skill allows the tunes to move around enough, lets the album expand and contract so that it continues to feel fresh on repeated listens. Face Tat’s staying power certainly outlasts the titular adornment, which severely limits your employment to nothing but record stores or math rock bands. If you’re spinning this record on a regular basis, then that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

RIYL: Hella, HEALTH, Parts & Labor

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