Drummer Zach Hill collects superlatives like some people collect baseball cards. And for every new review that calls Hill “the greatest,” “the most inventive,” or whatever newfangled expression one can come up with, Hill produces another record or creates another band that challenges even his own fans’ expectations. Take Hill’s newest solo album, Face Tat: The record is a lean chunk of pop-rock. Hill is best known for his work in the noisy avant-garde group Hella (that is, until his recent stint with Wavves), a band so “out there” that they celebrated a negative SPIN review by tossing the write-up on a t-shirt to sell as band merch.
In many ways, Face Tat feels like Hill is pushing back against his most recognizable contribution to music. The album has an intimidating quality to it—Hill’s drum-work is still a tad too much to keep up with at points. But it’s an unbelievably approachable record as well. Album highlight “The Primitives Talk” clocks in early and delivers the kind of catchy chorus many one-hit wonders built their entire careers on. Bubbly and frenetic, Hill tones his drumming down to let some sharp songwriting in on the tune. Later in the album, “Total Recall,” featuring No Age’s Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, squeals and squawks with speedy hardcore fury, but slows down for an engaging, fist-pumping chorus.
Though it contains some good clean chunks of pop-rock, Face Tat isn’t without its problems: The album is a bit uneven, with songs like “Ex-Ravers” and “Jackers” providing a jarring listen that doesn’t stick the minute the next track moves into rotation. But, just as the poppier tunes make Face Tat such a compelling listen, the record’s unwieldy tunes provide a service as well: As a collection, it makes for an odd packaging that proves Hill is hard at work exploring the dimensions of his craft.
Hill has proven his skills behind the kit on more than a dozen different musical projects, but Face Tat puts Hill’s craftier side on display. On Face Tat, Hill is a chemist, or rather, a mad scientist, and one who is simply curious to see what a combination of ingredients will produce. It’s not so much about trying to find a winning formula as it’s about tossing out the formulas and seeing what happens.
Zach Hill isn’t necessarily the kind of big marquee name that can sell out concerts, but it’s a name that has garnered legions of rapturous followers. Most people who have had Face Tat on their wish list are already fans of Hill’s, and already know he’s a monster on the drums. In many ways, Face Tat is an album for fans, a recorded compilation of the many voices of Zach Hill. Not that Hill ever produced a piece of work forcefully bound against his artistic will, but Face Tat sounds like Hill really threw a lot of his past sensibilities out the window to see what happened. It may sound cobbled together and unwieldy at times, but, then again, that’s part of the magic of Zach Hill.