HEALTH: Death Magic
Loma Vista (2015)
I know this record came out in August last year, but when has this blog ever been up-to date with what’s going on?
I’ve been following these guys since stumbling across their 2007 debut album in the Aquarius Records newsletter. I finally saw them live this weekend and they absolutely slayed me. Not many bands can blow the lid off an afternoon festival slot but HEALTH did just that. What’s more, there was something nonchalant about the way they put every other act on the bill to shame. Brilliant.
HEALTH started out as an anxious carpet bombing of the musical landscape, and evolved into a pop band seeking respite in the primal world of experimental music. Like a hormone ridden teen, HEALTH have to deface every pretty sound they make with something abrasive and dirty. On Death Magic they’ve perfected that tense stand off.
The production is uber polished, pristine and glistening like top 40 music. The drum tracks are huge and completely dry, totally ready for stadium arenas and Super Bowls. Every track throbs with synths that are crisp and sharp as blades. Danceable 4/4 beats abound.
And then, there’s the sudden blast beat attacks and inhuman shrieks; ambient background noise that blankets everything in dread and drama. Central to the mix is Jake Duzsik’s androgynous falsetto, calmly singing about bombs exploding, guns going off, and the inevitability of death. He delivers lines like, “We die. So what? We’re here. Let Go,” with a calm conviction that feels both perverse and comforting.
The morbid humour that underlies Death Magic‘s shiny racket is reflective of the band’s native Los Angeles. A glamorous, kale and quinoa surface that barely conceals a grimy underbelly filled with disastrous plastic surgery, prescription drugs, Brett Easton-Ellis and sex scandals. HEALTH are a candy coated arsenic pill. All vibrant colours hiding rats in the shadows.
HEALTH: Get Color
Love Pump (2009)
When Crystal Castles remixed HEALTH’s Crimewave tune into a droning disco killer, kids everywhere claimed HEALTH as their own without really knowing what the band sounded like. I read an interview with singer Jake Duzsik where he talked about audiences screaming for them to play Crimewave unaware that the band had already played the original, non disco version.
Despite feeling slightly burned by their brush with fame, HEALTH’s sophomore album is a step closer to the very far left of the mainstream. The shambolic nature of their debut has been reigned in and massaged into a more focused, but no less frenetic monster. Get Color is as noisy and ephemeral as its predecessor, but far more interested in juxtaposing sounds and atmospheres into cohesive fragments. Less random bursts of noise, and more slow-burning blow-outs create tension and a more memorable listening experience.
We Are Water starts out as a spacey, Euro disco number that’s glittery but uneasy. With the introduction of a snare drum it morphs into post punk territory, while the crystallised synthesisers and treble infused guitars build into a Black Metal wall of noise and blast beats. It stops for a moment, before returning with sedated hip hop rhythm reminiscent of Dalek and then fades away with a gently pulsing kick drum. These manic numbers are interspersed with dreamier tracks such as Before Tigers, which are content to amble along on pulses of reverb drenched noise and cascading drums.
HEALTH are obsessed with production, their manifesto revolves around music that is devoid of sensation or human spirit, and Get Color achieves this with overly effected instruments and studio trickery. Jake’s androgynous vocals are mystifying enough but it’s the prickly guitars and keyboards, like shards of glass shimmering across the floor, that give HEALTH an alien sound all their own. The guitars in particular have the treble cranked so high they make Big Black sound like a bunch of pussies. And when HEALTH allow some bass into their sound on Die Slowly the change in pitch is crushing. All these effects are cleverly offset by BJ’s live, natural drumming; although even he rarely falls into a standard rhythm, preferring to play his kit in a tribal manner similar to that of Liars (an extra set of floor toms are abused by various band members during their live shows).
Get Color is an intense experience. The ups and downs can get tiring and it’s not easy to decipher where HEALTH want to take you. That said, the progression between their debut and this is seriously exciting, and their willingness to push the boundaries of their sound suggests that the band could have a perfect ten album in them yet.