There’s No 666 in Outer Space

The term “hella” is the West coast equivalent of New England’s “wicked,” an intensive adjective used frequently to strengthen expressions, and both can be used interchangeably: “it’s wicked (= very) cold today” or “she was driving hella (= extremely) fast.” While Wicked is also the name of a book made into a Broadway musical, Hella are also a Sacramento, California-based band that plays eclectic experimental rock, releasing six albums in as many years. Their new release, their debut on Ipecac (longtime safehouse for all of founder Mike Patton’s mostly oddball tastes), marks the first time that the longtime duo of guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill have expanded to a quintet, even adding a fulltime vocalist. This stylistic shift has already created much furor among ardent fans, though similar moves within the music biz usually result in new fanbases being created, touring with more diverse bands, and more exposure to a wider audience.

Hill must have forearms like Popeye to be able to keep a pace as frenetic as this: he perseveres unbelievably through multiple drum rolls throughout every song, making “World Series” sound like a chaotic Dysrhythmia in the latter half, while “Let Your Heavies Out” has traces of the ’60s garage rock of Wellwater Conspiracy. Hill’s eccentric cadences, mixed with noisy guitar chords, compels “Hand That Rocks the Cradle” to sound like Robert Fripp’s the League of Gentlemen on speed, yet the melodic “The Things That People Do When They Think No One’s Is Looking” slows down to imitate the flowing indie pop of 31 Knots. A deceiving ditty whose lyrics repeat the album title ad infinitum, “2012 and Countless” erupts in words and single-stroke snare rolls after a couple of minutes of phased pedal effects from bassist/keyboardist Carson McWhirter. “Anarchists Just Wanna Have Fun” spotlights Aaron Ross’ schizophrenic vocals that jump from Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh to Frank Zappa, from King Missile’s John S. Hall to Rush’s Geddy Lee.

Mind you, the effect is very noisy, but behind the buzzy noodling are almost pop-based song structures that belie the group’s collective intelligence. Ultimately their music resides in the same neighborhood as 31 Knots cohabitating with Don Caballero—or Can welded to the Fucking Champs—but whereas 31 Knots take the best elements of Yes and transforms them into melodic progressive rock, Hella deliberately cut up prog suites into little pieces and crookedly sew them back together, calling these rickety structures ‘songs.’ For some, Hella will be hailed as the new prog; for others, however, they are and will always be a complete mess.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Ayers
June 19th, 2007


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