Church Gone Wild/
The double album is pretty pretentious. For average artists to even think they’ve made an hour’s worth of releasable music is often an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Of course, to find yourself in the enviable position where such a feat is even possible, especially on someone else’s dime, you’d have to think it would be hard to say no. Especially if your band is known for making such enigmatically weird sounds that you are often accompanied by qualifiers like “disorienting,” “disturbing,” and even “terrifying.”
Enter Hella, the Sacramento duo who perform unclassifiable guitar and drum compositions with no regard to time signatures and no aversion to hearty amounts of dissonance. They’ve gone all Outkast on their latest opus, with drummer Zach Hill and guitarist Spencer Seim each writing and creating their own album’s worth of material. To their credit each disc not only builds on Hella’s legacy of chaos, but also merits the extended format with ever-expanding styles and supplements to the duo’s already sordid catalogue.
Spencer Seim’s Chirpin Hard is a nightmarish approximation of his work with Nintendo theme song re-interpreters the Advantage. The recognizable melodies are often lost behind more epic walls of instrumental noise, but the blips and beeps still come and go, providing an occasional semblance of structure throughout a circus-like rock adventure. To call Seim’s tweaker escapades easy listening is a long shot, but they are similar in sound to past Hella efforts, and the highly digestible tunes come off like Mel Torme — especially relative to the bad trip that is drummer Zach Hill’s Church Gone Wild.
The liner notes credit the greater of these two evils as being written and composed sleeplessly, but even that’s a weak explanation for the fascinatingly destructive album that Hill has put together. Conceived as a single piece of music but cut into segments for the listener’s convenience, you can’t ignore the foreshadowing when the leadoff ‘Movement 1: Leaving The Arena Of Anthropology’ opens with a sampled voice asking “Have you ever written a song before?” only to be met with the fateful reply “yeah… once.” Through sheets of noise, indecipherable vocals, and even the brilliantly titled ‘Movement 8: Earth’s First Evening Jimi Hendrix-Less And Pissed’ in which a heavenly chorus sings their praises while a single snare drum is beaten shitless, Hill pushes every boundary and creates something that, while hard to stomach, is still an undeniable avant-garde sonic achievement.
The whole package is a lot to take in, and a bit hard to truly love, but it is also a creative high water mark for a band that never seems to take it easy. If you believe that noise can be beautiful and chaos can be pre-planned then it is time to convert to the church of Hella. By the time you finish listening to both records, you may no longer know what defines music, let alone pretention.