Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Sargent House
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Hella have spent the past decade of their career constantly morphing. They've been noise-rock pranksters, a prog-rocking quintet, and dabblers in the realm of synthesizers and 8-bit composition, depending on what year you decided to check in on them. They've built up a discography of formidable size and skill, blasting out songs featuring time signatures that seemingly haven't been invented yet, and guitar riffs beamed in from worlds unknown.
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.
Making a literal return to form, Hella trim back down to a duo on their hyperkinetic fifth album, Tripper. While the addition of a fuller, more traditional lineup made for an interesting diversion for the band, Hella excel at doing more with less, stripping away distractions like vocals and bringing the sound back to the knotty, mind-boggling madness that made them a noise rock staple. This stripped-down, back-to-basics approach gives Tripper a free and open sound, as if Hella are really cutting loose for the first time in years and letting out all of the pent-up energy they’ve been holding onto for the past four years, as if the pressure has been building up and the dam has finally burst.
No matter how much Hella have juggled their lineup, the music has always sounded the same. The Sacramento-bred spazz-rock duo's done the OutKast split-solo album thing (Church Gone Wild/Chirpin' Hard), given its songs the coffee-shop open-mike treatment (Acoustics), and revamped itself into a five-piece supergroup (There's No 666 In Outer Space). Yet through all of these rearrangements and reinventions, the band has rarely deviated from its staple schtick: shreddy guitars, frenetic drumming, and hooks scavenged from the Power Glove era of Nintendo gaming.
There’s a scene in Portals, a documentary about the cult Sacto math-rock band Hella, where the band members ditch their instruments one by one until the only person left on stage is drummer Zach Hill, violently toppling his drums until he is just riding his kick drum amidst a pile of overturned drum kit pieces and discarded guitars. In this sequence, the band perhaps prophesied their recent return to the core duo of Hill and guitarist Spencer Seim, the lineup that originally made them their name. Hella have built up quite a tall sonic edifice over the years, one that has not depended solely on the duo’s (admittedly considerable) own noise-making abilities for quite a long time.
How Hella can have the energy to keep cranking out their spastic, ludicrous-composition noise rock, let alone the brainpower required for memorizing all the parts, is anyone's guess. But sure enough, the duo—just the original two-piece for this one—is at it again..
Like the Northern California-derived slang word the band takes their name from, the style of music Hella is most comfortable in is rather overdone. As talented as guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill are, the type of math rock they purvey has been done by bands both better and worse many times over. Progressive rock, whose fixation on rapidly altering time signatures and instrumental prowess math rock takes much of its cues from, is likewise filled with bands trying to prove their years spent at Julliard were not wasted.
The big fuss over Hella’s last album, 2007’s There’s No 666 in Outer Space, was the band’s expansion from a duo to a five-member group. The biggest talking point for Tripper, though accompanied by significantly less commotion than its predecessor, is the band’s return to their original two-person structure. Yet the idea of the amount or classification of members in a band mattering at all ends up revealing how out of step a group like Hella is with today’s musical climate, where the divide between bands and solo artists and any other type of performer has significantly eroded, if not disappeared completely.
Though they’ve performed with a number of different lineup combinations, Hella has always been drummer Zach Hill and guitarist Spencer Seim at the core. Though a fairly conventionally sounding core, Hill and Seim are not your conventional guitar/drums duo. Rather than merely keeping time, Hill’s diverse styles range from the clattering lurches he showed guest improvising on Joan of Arc’s last disc, Oh Brother, to the insane punk mashing he displayed for his brief tenure backing Nathan Williams on Wavves.
A focused fifth album that takes the dynamic duo into newly accessible territories. Adam Kennedy 2011 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.