Album Review: Zach Hill - Face Tat (Sargent House)

The Hella drum powerforce tries out his own twisted 'pop' with help from No Age and Devendra

Whenever some avant-garde musician talks of wanting to make ‘pop’ music it always sounds like the polar opposite to what pop really is, even with the most elastic definition of an already nebulous genre. So when Zach Hill, the absurdly talented drummer with cult noiseniks Hella and about three dozen other collaborative groups, drops the P-word in conjunction with guests such as No Age, Prefuse 73 and Devendra Banhart, it’s blindingly obvious this is going to be some off-kilter shit. And true to form ‘Face Tat’ is a relentless and abrasive outing through sounds and rhythms Ke$ha couldn’t mime over if she had the cast of Cheers shoved up her arse (which, let’s face it, she probably does).

It’s worth stating, though, that Hill clearly doesn’t, y’know, think any of this is going to be used on Glee any time soon. He’s more interested in the transportative rather than anything direct: ‘Second Life’, incorporating Banhart’s woozy couplets, is a lysergic ode to weirdness that sounds like the noises that accompany the end of a particularly visual mushroom trip, while ‘Gross Sales’ is a man-machine duel between Prefuse 73’s electronic and Hill’s organic percussion that slips into the hypnotic with alarming ease. Whatever Hill set out to do – ‘be weird’ would be our guess at his modus operandi – he’s conjured up some delightfully strange textures that sound charmingly lo-fi and homemade and uniquely futuristic at the same time.

The most obvious touchstone for the majority of the album, though, is Lightning Bolt. ‘The Sacto Smile’ is a pure animal frenzy of percussion and screeched, cut-up vocals that kind of sound like a malfunctioning robot shouting “I think I’m a fucking robot!” over and over, while ‘House Of Hits’ eases up the throttle in terms of pace but retains the essential weirdness and kinetic fury of Hill’s octo-limbed drumming. But considering the bass bounce of ‘The Primitives Talk’ and ‘Total Recall’’s punk thrash it’s clear the drummer’s keen to do more than bludgeon.

Trouble is, it’s just so much to take in that much of what makes 'Face Tat’ impressive gets lost in the whirlwind – it’s like getting mugged by a gang of rowdy ideas. There are enough shifts in mood (if we’re talking in emoticons ‘Jackers’ is a bit :s while ‘Green Bricks’ is pure XD) to keep things the right side of ‘difficult’ but the lack of discernible structure means just when a killer chorus could drop and elevate the whole thing into the realms of genius the direction change is so jarring it can be frustrating. Moral of the story: don’t listen to this while operating heavy machinery or people will die.

Rob Parker

Click here to get your copy of Zach Hill's 'Face Tat' from Rough Trade Shops.
7 / 10

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