Tag Archives: HEALTH

If you market yourself for blood, how do you come back?

It’s not CBGBs or anything, but there’s no denying I was a small bit excited to see what the Music Hall of Williamsburg actually looked like. Crucible of Alt, sort of thing. It’s not that impressive. Just a Tripod-esque place on a slightly smaller scale. Kind of like seeing the Mona Lisa in real life or something. Not that I’ve seen that. But I have spent some of my life having lots of fun at HEALTH gigs, so, even though the only-doing-free-stuff rule was temporarily broken, I saw them play there.

The first support was a guy called Gold Panda, a sampler squelcher and accelerando enthusiast from (or with a very convincing impression of a person from) England. Some of his songs were fairly uninspired lo-fi electronics, but once he got going, he brought little Wham City leaps of joy into his tracks. His closer exploded with unexpected drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, too, which was a pleasant surprise. Lightly bearded and with his hood up for the whole set even though it was a ridiculous temperature for night time.

Second support were Indian Jewelry, who were more on the nightmare rock end of things. With strobe lights framing their affected four-across-the-stage moves (particularly the stand-up drummer), they seemed to be going for a Happening-type musical event, and it worked sometimes, but seemed a little too pretentious at other times.

But here’s the rub. HEALTH came on, and instantly a space started to clear in front of the stage. First, it was one or two semi-crusties elbowing the people in their immediate vicinity. But then hard beats dropped, and a mosh pit of about twenty to thirty developed. The crowd divided, as they tend to when there’s a mosh pit at a gig by a band made of less than 75% beard, into those who wanted to be on the fringe watching or drinking beer, and those who wanted to slam dance to Death+. I decided I wanted to slam dance.

The politics of the mosh pit are kind of interesting. There’s the guy who is just running into everyone and pushing people. There’s the guy who looks like he’d be moshing the exact same way if he was by himself. There’s the short girl who thinks she’ll be fine, then gets elbowed in the head and knocked over and has to be rescued and escorted back a bit, where she stands proudly and maybe says “whooooooooo”.

The highlight’s a foregone conclusion at a HEALTH gig, really. So Die Slow came, the music pulsated, the crowd bobbed en masse, the strobes made it seem even more like a heart attack, and then it ended and left a mess of breathlessness and riverine sweat trails down t-shirt backs. But an honourable mention to set-closer and newest HEALTH release USA Boys, the non-remix from the Get Color remix album. Slower, more hazey-gazey, but just as intense in its own way.

The encore was about 60 seconds of pointless jamming, but who cares. This is one of the best live bands in the world at the moment.



The Year. 15-11

15. Times New Viking – Born Again Revisited [US]
So fucked it feels like it’s hurting your brain and damaging your speakers even when it’s down low. It’s Times New Viking, what do you expect? Received wisdom still maintains that Times New Viking are Yo La Tengo shooting their own tapes with nail guns from behind a particularly fuzzy curtain. But (as I’ve moaned before) the world’s postmodern now and there’s nothing external to a piece of art, so forget all about squeejeeing away the fuzz to get to the songs and simply embrace the abrasive, anarchistic catchiness of it. Even if it literally hurts to do so. City On Drugs, for example, is excellent, though fairly strictly to Rip It Off’s formula. Move To California, though is a darker, more serious Times New Viking channelling emo when it was the same thing as college rock. The sad fate of succeeding a classic album casts a shadow on Born Again Revisited, but not one it can’t at least answer to in its own right.

Further thought on fuzz-as-sauce vs. fuzz-as-intrinsic last year, and a live video from Whelans.

14. Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard – Em Are I [US]
If self-consciousness was music, it would be Jeffrey Lewis. Not quite as dark as neurosis and more constantly present than embarrassment. It’s in the shuffling, fuzzy acoustic arrangements, it’s in the nerdy comic-book cover art, but more than anything else, obviously, it’s in the lyrics. The motto inscribed on the theoretical title page of the multi-volume autobiography that is Lewis’ work is the unfunny punchline of the opening track slogans: “And I kept repeating it to myself to convince myself it was true – that everyone you meet is not better than you.” Not to say that there’s nothing more to Jeffrey Lewis than self-pity, because anyone familiar with anti-folk’s centre-pole will know that there’s nothing he says that isn’t simultaneously funny, sad and tuneful in a slipshod way. He has carved a singular career out for himself, and this could be the highlight. You’d think he’d be a little more cocksure, but then “going bald is the most manly thing I’m ever gonna do”. So maybe not.

A live review from Crawdaddy, and some weird BBC video.

13. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career [SCO]
Camera Obscura exist in a universe that somehow approximates what would happen if one was to superimpose the stylistic elements of the kitchen sink British 60s onto the modern day. In charity shop vintage, they present a honey-sweetened indie-pop sadness, filmed on grainy Super 8. These are not, as some have said, child-like love songs. They’re love songs that swapped cassettes and dog-eared books when they were younger and can’t rid themselves of dreams of tandem bicycle picnics. If an album that begins with the declaration “Spent a week in a dusty library!” is just to twee for you, that’s fine. But for some, the pillowy, melancholy sweetness will trigger a certain familiar strand of nostalgia for awkward moments and love that didn’t happen.

French Navy video and a Guest List.

12. HEALTH – Get Color
Progressive is fine. Experimental is fine. Go that route if you like, but if you do it right, even the most close-minded club attendee is going to be sucked magnetically from wall-propping position to the middle of the dancefloor. That’s what Get Color means, then. Get Color in the sense of hewing pop music from slabs of noise, but also Get Color in the sense of bringing a whole new palette into play, of bringing innovation to people whether they want it or not. You won’t hear many albums as simultaneously abrasive and immediately appealing as this, so my advice is to put it on in the dark, as loud as it deserves, and get a little colour yourself.

This is the last paragraph and a half of the Trinity News review of this album. Die Slow is on it, and is so good it will blow you up.

11. Christmas Island – Blackout Summer [US]
2009 witnessed the rise of lo-fi, and its fall. Things move quickly now, probably too quickly, and that unfortunately means that if Christmas Island melt down in the Catalan sun, they’ll only have themselves to apologise to. Not that it really matters. Blackout Summer is the best sort of apathetic guitar pop, the kind where songs are literally called things like I Don’t Care and Weird You Out. With a sense of humour and a preference for reverb over distortion making this closer to So Cow than to Wavves, the eleven song set scans like a greatest hits compilation for an insidiously catchy garage band who never got past passing out tapes. Its twin highlights are Black Cloud – a proto-anthem about paranoia – and Dinosaurs – a lament for the passing of the dinosaurs. Without a raised eyebrow in sight.

The real Christmas Island is full of radioactive land crabs, not guitar pop.

Some reviews from print.

This year I edit the music reviews in Trinity News. I also write them sometimes. Totally Dublin album reviews are only 75 words, and this blog is rangy at the best of times, so I enjoy a good old-fashioned 300 word explication from time to time. Here are two from Issue 1, which would have been out in Fresher’s Week, around the 20th October.

HEALTH – Get Color (City Slang)

It’s striking that a band making what is essentially loud, esoteric experimental music would decide to name their album Get Color. Colour is what you associate with pop music, summer music, beach music. Happy music. Colour is catchy and accessible to everybody. HEALTH tick none of those boxes. They’re danceable, yes, but it’s the kind of post-apocalyptic dancing you do to music that uses peals of feedback as its melodic hook. So why Get Color? Why not Get Black? Get Dark? Darkness seems, on the surface, like HEALTH’s forte. “Nice Girls”, built over an intense, tom-heavy drum beat, approximates a particularly dead-eyed version of Liars, and the robotic/military sound of “Death+” is as ear-numbing as industrial noise can get.

The lyrics are never audible. But that’s part of the charm. Because the songs aren’t so much narratively about things as they are complete auditory experiences, as pretentious as that undoubtedly sounds. You can describe something to someone with as many words as you have in your head and they’ll still translate it back into picture using their own set of prejudices. It’s better to show them. That’s what HEALTH do. They take things like urges, aggression, fear and joy and turn them into slabs of danceable noise.

The key is “Die Slow”. At once both the most accessible and the best thing the band have ever done (imagine that), “Die Slow” is an undeniable giant. Driven along by a continent-sized bassline and BJ Miller dominating his drum-kit, it’s a statement in itself. You can have hypnotic, feedback guitars. You can have shoegaze vocals. Progressive is fine. Experimental is fine. Go that route if you like, but if you do it right, even the most close-minded club attendee is going to be sucked magnetically from wall-propping position to the middle of the dancefloor.

That’s what Get Color means, then. Get Color in the sense of hewing pop music from slabs of noise, but also Get Color in the sense of bringing a whole new palette into play, of bringing innovation to dancefloors whether they want it or not. You won’t hear many albums as simultaneously abrasive and immediately appealing as this, so my advice is to put it on in the dark, as loud as it deserves, and get a little colour yourself.
I (5/5)

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation)

Alarm bells should be ringing when any artist releases an album entitled The Blueprint. It’s hubristic for a musician to set their music on a pedestal above predecessors and peers. It turns it into a competition. But that’s what mainstream hip-hop is all about, being the best right now, and it’s something to which Jay-Z has held a roughly recognised claim to for nearly a decade. After all, The Blueprint 3 is part of a series, the third in line after 2001’s original (triple platinum after its release on the day of the World Trade Centre attacks) and 2002’s three million-selling Blueprint²: The Gift and the Curse. Since then, Jay-Z has retired and returned, transcended musical prejudices with a headline set at Glastonbury and, historically, played at the inauguration concert of the President of the United States. It’s fair to say that if anyone can claim to know what the blueprint for a hip-hop album is, it’s Shawn Carter.

It’s a pity then that this album is so unsatisfying. With a cast of guests ranging from Rihanna to Young Jeezy to Luke Steele of electro-pop duo Empires of the Sun, Jay-Z has no material barriers to making whatever music he wants at this point in his career. However, fifteen years on from his debut, it’s not clear that he knows what he’s trying to say. One song that instantly sticks in the craw is the ham-fisted “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)”. Claiming itself to be “practically assault with a deadly weapon”, “D.O.A.” sets its sights on the hip-hop zeitgeist with a sharp tongue and no pitch correction. But over a staid guitar line and without any of Jay-Z’s truly cutting lyrics, it simply comes off as too calculated and, let’s face it pop fans, not half the tune that some of T-Pain, Lil Wayne and Kanye West’s singles are.

Oh yes, Kanye West. A man whose last album consisted of little more than auto-tuned vocals and 808 kick drums. And one who also features on The Blueprint 3, one whole song after “D.O.A.” Huh. “Run This Town”, the track with West and Rihanna, is actually quite good. So is much of the album. “Empire State of Mind”, an ode to New York with Alicia Keys over some ringing grand piano, would stand up against anything Jay-Z has done. But the problem, as the man himself calls it on the opening track, is thus: “I don’t run rap no more, I run the map”. Jay-Z’s more important right now in the grand scheme than he is, strictly speaking, musically relevant. We’ll find out soon if the two can be mutually exclusive for the Noughties’ greatest.

II.2 (3/5)

She sees red at night.

By way of reviewing the HEALTH gig in the Village last week before it falls into the mists of the blurry past, here is the video for Die Slow.

For the public record:

  • Wounds were excellent. Don’t be surprised. They started to a fairly empty Village, but they were on the floor regardless, and generally conducted themselves with their usual intensity. It’s Wounds, come on.
  • Pictureplane by contrast made boring, non-catchy 90s dance music on a table with flashy lights under it. Being a hipster doesn’t necessarily make your music a clever iteration of something mainstream if it’s not good.
  • HEALTH were also excellent. Get Color is, on a good day, one of the best albums of the year and it formed the core of the set-list. BJ Miller, unfortunately mired in shadow at the back of the Village’s annoyingly large stage, proved himself as the world’s best provider of continent-sized drums once more. The best song on the night, as it is in many contexts including several potential “songs of the year” lists, was Die Slow. The video’s above, you may have noticed.