As a year in music 2009 has seen two distinct trends. The first, and most rewarding, has been established bands reaching the pinnacle of their career by making epoch defining albums i.e Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty projectors. The second has been established bands making albums that fit consistently in their oeuvre both thematically and sonically, not really breaking new ground here, just churning out more consistent records (The Thermals, Yo La Tengo). What 2009 hasn’t seen a lot of are albums like “GET COLOR” by HEALTH.
The first 30 seconds of the single “Die Slow” had me checking wikipedia and running through “Crimewave” to make sure this was the same band. Perhaps this is a little dramatic but the sentiment remains the same. The song starts out with a processed guitar loop which seemed like familiar territory for a band that runs so many distortion pedals their stage floor looks like a whack-a-mole game. When the percussion kicks in all bets are off. A stuttering post-industrial backbeat comes in before androgynous, almost feminine vocals coming floating up from a Mariana trench of pure loudness. The chugging guitar riff sounds eerily similar to Stabbing Westward (I had to reach back to middle school for that reference.) This overtly shining layer of studio sweetness over unrestrained noise seemed like a brilliant, brilliant move.
It is easy to say that HEALTH has “changed” their sound since 2007’s blitzberg of brutal noise processed in loud, short punches to face. It is more apt to say that HEALTH has evolved into this menagerie of thick Industrial percussion, shoegazy guitars and vocals punctuated with HEALTH-associated standards such as massive bursts of violent noise and tribal drumming. Each song retains beloved elements that made HEALTH’s self titled album such an amazing feat of precision terror mixed with pop tendencies. For example “Severin” is the most straight ahead HEALTH track on the album starting from the very first second with ear splitting guitar feedback and frantic drumming, but sadly in an album full of completely new sounding tracks it sounds a little out of place. I feel strange using the adjective “beautiful” in a review of a HEALTH album but it feels so right. Like Post-Metal pioneers Isis, HEALTH cloaks shimmering layered soundscapes beneath the threatening auspices of noise; the knowledge that at any moment this pretty little breakdown full of vocal cooing, shimmering guitars and tribal drumming can be obliterated by the next ejaculation of noise makes you appreciate it even more
There are some downright pretty songs on this album. “Before Tigers” and “In Violet” are lost in a hazy, daydream of skittering electronic percussion, weird, processed guitar lines coming in from all angles. Located respectively in both the middle and the end of the album you can tell HEALTH has learned something about mixing album. Sometimes it is nice to let an album breathe. At times they sound closer to fellow NIN tour alumni Deerhunter than (amazing) label mates Pre.
The decidedly industrial approach that “GET COLOR” has taken is a genre that is criminally dismissed. With bands like HEALTH, Jesu and A Place to Bury Strangers (whose 2009 album rivals HEALTH for one of the loudest) channeling early Nine Inch Nails and Throbbing Gristle, is a Post-Industrial revival on the horizon? “GET COLOR” is a small victory for HEALTH, the amazing Lovepump United, and the post-everything noise genre.