A focused fifth album that takes the dynamic duo into newly accessible territories.
Adam Kennedy 2011-09-14
Over a stop-start decade-long career to date, Hella’s chaotic energy has resolutely pinned the Sacramento noise-rockers out as an outfit unconcerned with commercial success. But this fifth album marks a subtle sea change of sorts, twisting snaking experimentalism into some of their most palatable shapes. Yet, at the same time, the first Hella record since 2007's There's No 666 In Outer Space refuses to lose the kinetic charms that have made them a cult concern.
The old cliché about less is more rears its head, with Hella now pared down to a twosome after previously swelling to a quintet, both live and while recording their previous LP. The core that founded the band remains: guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill. The former continues to coax fretboard wizardry from eccentric custom-made axes; the latter – sometime sticksman with Wavves, plus Deftones and The Mars Volta side projects – is an impressive study in perpetual motion. His idiosyncratically hectic technique ensures more scattershot beats per minute than an arrhythmia sufferer's ECG reading.
Evidence of their increased ability to extricate melody from madness appears early in the triumphant refrains of opener Headless. The twosome wrings beauty out of anarchic aural fragments, in a similar manner to confirmed Hella devotee/Hill collaborator Marnie Stern. It's a pattern repeated across Tripper, to the extent that it's only by the conclusion of its 10 tracks that you truly ponder that there are no vocals to be found here.
Wordlessness is a side concern, though, as almost every time the potentially brain-frazzling cacophony threatens to disappear into wilful obscurity, Hella haul it back from the brink, curtailing the majority of Tripper into three- or four-minute doses. The brevity is noticeable: when Netgear, the album's lengthiest offering, spills into seven shades of mental breakdown, the closing 90 seconds seem a comparative eternity.
At the other extreme, On the Record's punishing repetitions nestle within a two-minute race-to-the-finish of surprisingly tuneful intent. Proof positive that Tripper is, fittingly, Hella more focused than its spaced-out title or the duo's hippy slacker personal demeanours might suggest.