Others: Spencer Seim/sBACH/The Advantage, The Smokers, Nervous Cop, El Grupo Nuevo
Zach Hill perfected the art of stringing several drum solos together close to a decade ago. His voyage to combine his technical prowess with melodies and songwriting hasn’t proved as effortless, but his side-band excursions — Chll Pll, The Ladies, and Bygones — come increasingly, almost dangerously close to cracking the code and opening the floodgates. With Face Tat, he continues to attempt to hit that Spot I’ve been waiting for him to NAIL all along (and when he finally does get it right, I’m not guaranteeing that it won’t be like that final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark; you know, faces melting, demons/ghosts released from eternal purgatory, bad guys expunged to a world of cold, dead spirits), to AWESOME but not-quite-there ends.
Hearing Face Tat’s first track, “Memo to the Man,” I thought, just maybe, this would be the one. But after a red-hot opening that melds “Slippi” with old Hella, and despite an obvious improvement in his sense of pacing and restraint, Hill’s hell-rod drums, determined synths, and blurred vocals overreach just a bit when you stand back and view Tat as a whole. In particular, the singing, provided by Hill, browns and curls at the ends — withers, even — under close scrutiny, often neglecting to change pitch or character for long stretches (which is frustrating considering the new instrumental heights being reached here). The songs that do hit the number, however, are unimaginably nimble in their enthusiastic originality, carrying on the busy-bee legacy Hill has been building and venturing into exciting territory. Considering how ground-floor some of his proper-solo recordings have been, this is an intriguing development.
- “Green Bricks” is one of the most interesting drum-stick shards ever to litter the floor around Hill’s kit, a glitch-filled burp-fest that pulls back the rhythm gymnastics and focuses on effects gurgles and steady, loose hi-hat sloshing. It’s as though one of those Life’s Blood bands (Kites Sail High, Italic Indian, maybe even Pregnant) took a sample of Hill’s drumming and laid a witch-house tapestry overtop. Yikes.
- The most successful song vocally, “House of Hits” propels forward like a rocketship boosted by a turbo-charge straight out of those “Off Road” video games and doesn’t settle until Hill’s toms have been BEATen into submission and his ride cymbal bell tap-tap-tapped to effin’ DEATH. It’s such an energetic track I don’t know what to do with myself when I hear it: a good sign.
- “Burner in the Video” and “Second Life” (the latter of which contains a nice line: “Turning all your blood to bleach/ I love when she shatters me”) represent where I’d like to see Hill go with his vocals in the future. The melodies aren’t exactly mellifluous, but they’re varied and glossed over by just the right pinch of effects seasoning. That the voicing is paired with some of the best ColecoVision blips and/or bloops around doesn’t hurt none.
- “Total Recall” is one of the first Hill compositions to use traditional guitar distortion in its all-out assault. Far from off-putting, it works like a charm, lending his drumming even more girth.
There are a few tunes, as I mentioned, that don’t hold water, but I’m just not feeling the need to dissect those instances further. Besides, Hill’s occasional downsides are by now predictable (too busy, too ambitious, too Everything). What I’d really like you, the reader, to take away from this review is Gumshoe’s sheer reverence for the body of work Hill is amassing. As I seem to mention every time I review a Hill-related release, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m playing witness to a musical family tree (of one) that will be regarded with awe by future generations. And, if not, at least I can know in my own mind that I tried to expose others to a musician that has defied the rules of indie rock and come out not only smiling but THRASHING. It’s a beautiful thing.
01. Memo to the Man
02. The Primitives Talk
04. The Sacto Smile
05. Green Bricks
06. House of Hits
08. Burner in the Video
09. Dizzy from the Twins
10. Gross Sales
11. Total Recall
12. Face Tat
13. Second Life