(Lovepump United; 2008)
By Colin McGowan | 31 May 2008
So if HEALTH’s 2007 self-titled debut was rock conceived in a lonely cell, occasionally bashing itself against the walls, the echo of its nihilistic grunts serving as its only conversation, this is when it downs some ketamine and tries to make friends with itself (unsuccessfully). But a journey to the back of one’s skull can be lonely, so HEALTH have enlisted the aid of a small army of their synth-wielding comrades to transform the shrieking guitars and tribal minimalism of their debut into a frantic race through a pastel wonderland.
It may take a careful ear to discern this as an album comprised of remixes of “all the hits” from HEALTH’s debut (which may be the point really). At times, HEALTH’s skeleton is almost completely obscured, vaguely familiar elements cropping up briefly and quickly dissolving into the ever-moving compositions, grains of sand in a much larger pane of stained glass. But many of the synthesized elements that alternately frame and displace HEALTH’s instrumentation and vocals are arguably better than anything on HEALTH; no small feat, at that. The fluorescent splashes on Nosaj Thing’s “Tabloid Sores” are a force in and of themselves, accented only by the disembodied intonations of the original. A handful of other tracks take this approach and could be classified as re-imaginings more than remixes (which may be the point, again).
In this vein, DISCO ventures pretty far down the rabbit hole; the surrealist bent is apparent from the get-go. For the first of Acid Girls’ reworking of “Triceratops,” backwards drums escalate, washing over repetitious, ghostly vocals that transform into a head-splitting guitar riff soon to be displaced by a bleeding, hallucinogenic fuzz, then stiffening and spiraling into catastrophic euphoria before collapsing in a heap of exhaustion: a manic-depressive episode condensed into a five-minute tantrum. The opener serves as a microcosm of the whole album—that is, its soup sporadically tempers aggressive propulsion with sparser, meditative sections to allow heart rates to lessen, building anticipation for the next bit of catharsis. DISCO‘s appeal is built on such release, and though its frantic pace is the essential component of its success, a track like C.L.A.W.S.’s remix of “Lost Time,” composed solely of clipped vocals, spacey drums, and ambient blips, provides the album with crucial contrast, ensuring it doesn’t combust and disintegrate before the last cut. So, yes, Pink Skull’s “Heaven” is the foil that makes all this explosive exigency so dazzlingly confrontational, that makes Pictureplane’s version of “Lost Time” seem even more vivacious in comparison. Most of the songs here feel insistent because they just fucking are.
For all its maximalist glory, DISCO is remarkably nuanced, minor elements seamlessly shifting in and out of frame behind the compositions’ vibrant foregrounds. As awe-inspiring as the angular stomp of Narctrax’s “Heaven” or Crystal Castles’ rendition of “Crimewave” are, the environments beneath the immediate elements of these songs become fascinating upon subsequent listens: always deconstructing, refurbishing, and swapping out, never settling into complacency or tedium.
As Curses!’s “Perfect Skin,” a disorienting, cool breeze in contrast to the rabid delirium of the music that precedes it, brings the album to a close, exaggerated heaving turns to sighs of relief, hues return from their oversaturated state, limbs feel numb and the room sinks back into equilibrium. It’s just that kind of experience, something alternately enthralling and exhaustive, some unholy marriage of dissonance and infectiousness. It may seem contradictory to describe music composed on a laptop as “affecting,” but the whirring electronics and drum machine magic on this album reach back even further than their source material, taking Henry Rollins’ confusion and Johnny Rotten’s sneer and cobbling it into some faux-organic heap of boundless energy and dithyrambic emotion, its weight felt not only in the density of its drum hits but in the breadth of its dramatic nature.