Music Reviews

Hella Tripper

(Sargent House) Rating - 8/10

Violence for your stereo:  The prolific and dexterous Zach Hill broke away from solo albums (Face Tat) and hip-hop (Death Grips) long enough to rejoin his Hella counterpart Spencer Seim.  The results?  Tripper: their fifth LP following a four-year stint of Hella in absentia, hiatus… silence. 

Not surprisingly, Tripper thrives on musical irregularity and any momentary lapse into standardized pop rhythms (Long Hair, Netgear) or digestible guitar-driven melodies (Headless, Kid Life Crisis) are quickly remedied.  Whether that’s to your delight or chagrin… “eyes” and “beholders.”

In the meantime, while one could easily get lost in the album’s seemingly erratic and rampant use of Hill’s snare rattles and Seim’s splintering guitar notes, what you really hear is focus.  Punk prog or post-punk jazz, experimentalist pop or No Wave from the headspace of Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby, Hill and Seim frustrate the categorically reliant, their duo holding onto its essentials and coming up with a disciplined form of chaos.  Some of the changes and shifts Hill and Seim work could be on the level of King Crimson and the band have had four (+ Tripper) albums and a slew of EPs and singles to put this across.  It’s not as if Tripper is the first album Hella’s released that’s truly exhibited their skills and the levels to which they push their sound. 

But following their five-member mutation for 2007’s There’s No 666 In Outer Space, it’s remarkable how little the loss of the three additional bandmates seems to matter.  As limited as Hella should be, they’re not and Tripper offers welcoming confirmation: the largely anthemic Headless, (the lead single which was put out earlier this year as Untitled), announcing both Hill and Seim in glorious amplified sonic waves and machine-gun percussive pummeling.  And, as if the speed quotient hadn’t already been reached and breached, Self Checkout is an excessive array of drum rolls and six-string math.  Their way of toning it down can be found with Long Hair and Yubacore, both of which offer some of the most conventionally written guitar verses with Hill’s kit aiding in complication.  Long Hair, in particular, seems to be the album’s most straightforward track, though On The Record could be its most characteristically “punk.”  Headgear also toys with rock convention but focuses mostly on abrupt transitions and drones. 

Kid Life Crisis is one of the album’s most seamlessly composed moments, each time signature and shift in momentum seeming the most sensible.  Not to diminish of course the writing throughout the album, but there’s a flow to Kid Life Crisis, one that allows Seim and Hill’s be-bop to entertain their ambitions with the least amount of listener scrutiny.  Following that is the strange and almost folk-based Further, whose licks could emulate both banjo chords and bowed violin, an almost old world square dance of sounds that are then followed by the progressive and hardcore-fueled Psycho Bro and Osaka which seems to fall more in line with Hill’s Marnie Stern collaborations. 

Albums as brimming with idiosyncrasies as Tripper are fodder for prog dorks and students of Eno, so their loyalties and satisfaction are almost a given and probably essential to Hella’s success.  The band’s chops are unquestionable and albums like Tripper automatically beg me to come up with reasons why the fringe bands are often overlooked.  Admittedly, a superiority or pretension could easily be seen in work like this.  Remember, it was elitist swagger that launched rock’s roots campaign in the first place, punk rock coming into its own once pop music’s players could no longer connect with the fans. 

Hella, though, is the underground embodiment of such elitism, if you could even attach such a label to them, a very musically informed 21st century reaction to the very sanitization and safety that’s made its way into a good amount of today's indie/independent music.  And, though, theirs is not the only voice of dissent, they continue to provide an argument against convention. 

And, it's very convincing.