(Lovepump United; 2007)

By Dom Sinacola | 27 November 2007

Calling HEALTH a disarming exercise in contradiction is only half right. The Los Angeles quartet seems entirely bent on stuttering, macroscopically shifting -- no, more like slamming into a brick wall and then turning around -- dynamics and time signatures; they’re compared to the Liars (got that one out of the way) and that’s fine, apt, sure enough. Because the Liars like to be different and like to make music that is categorized as “different” inside its own unrelentingly different canon. The Liars you know and probably love will never be more than creative minds in transit, which would be engaging if they could ever tag an imaginative conceit down without skipping to the next genre stain, leaving behind modifiers that only seem to amount to “tribal” or “abrasive.” They do use quite a bit of drum tracks and, absolutely, they play pretty durn fast. Just like HEALTH, who also parse fiending rockets of reverb and stentorian kit rattle with melodramatic ambience. That overt pandering to silence can be very pretty as it strips naked, like the air after a downpour or like a moribund winter tree discarded by a flock of blackbirds. Take the chilling synth of “Heaven” that creeps into view for twenty-eight heaving seconds before it can make a dent; the nada-ness of the void bookending “//M\\” is charged and fizzing with absence, so much more haunted (those stabs of lead guitar, organ, and snare are nothing short of shocking, perfectly timed within themselves but lost and out of sync in the context of the rest of the song) than anything the Liars could possibly imagine, even with the ornate halls of that East German castle studio or whatever claustrophobically limning the mood of their opus.

The Liars are easy to pick on, easier to allude to, especially when attempting to explain the impetus behind the HEALTH album. I mean, really, is there even one? An impetus, I mean?

Let’s meet halfway. If, in the rigorous binary of their structures, HEALTH seem pinned to exploiting extremes, then they nail that conceit fucking down. Contradiction exists as an illusion, in the barriers they set for themselves (those brick walls, right?) and then dishevel in twenty-eight minutes. The pristine roll and threadbare hi-hat that serve as a base for “Girl Attorney” are only obscured by the titanium wall of guitar that gouges at the track from every corner. Or try to find the discernibly human wails, the organic sirens that beg for mercy beneath and between the feedback and radio static that butcher “Zoothorns.” Similarly, check the androgynous Boris vocals that trip, sometimes half a step and sometimes a full, behind the growling soap opera climb of “Perfect Skin.” Frankly, traditional beauty is buried to the hilt here, but uncovering it is something of an ecstatic experience; pain and pleasure toe-to-toe, does one slinky arpeggio beneath the holler of squall even matter?

Don’t tag it as a contradiction. Call it symmetry. HEALTH is mostly a noise record that rewards close listening, and close listening can hurt. It’s also a noise record with a cute banana sticker on top, synths, handclaps, and mellow chants straight earned by the staccato clatter before and around them, making the loud louder and the visceral wetter. So the last fourth of the album all but drowns the screeling industry that seemed to previously characterize HEALTH and confines it in jabs. Thus, “Glitter Pills,” a fantastically annoying dance slap, makes meticulous sense, somehow absorbing the aromas of HEALTH’s forebears -- influences, contemporaries, instruments, previous tracks -- into concision, allowing a sweet rhythm to follow unhindered into a sleepy dual coda.

Unfortunately, a bit of what follows is “Lost Time,” that lapse in balance more Liars (2007) b-side than satisfying cap. Just an afterthought is all, but a downer in every sense of the word, hard to overcome because it slyly addles the symmetry HEALTH’s already built. So, there you go: “Lost Time” is the album’s contradiction, the first time it truly lags and lets the cats out of the bag, the only time its machinations and monotonous dynamics and same-y vocals show bare.

Then again, the breathless highs of HEALTH demand mirror lows. So maybe everything does settle into a pattern.