[7 September 2009]
In 2006, Liars released Drum’s Not Dead, which was notable because it managed to sound at the same time more expansive and more pared down than anything Liars had done before. They kept the most effective aspects of their sound, magnified and refined them, and ended up with a record that, at its best, feels like a sort of musical manifest destiny: of course that was the record they were going to make. All the signs pointed to it!
This is an apt reference point for HEALTH’s Get Color, not only because of the inevitable comparisons between the two bands’ sounds, but because HEALTH have managed to pull off a similar feat. The critical reception for HEALTH’s 2007 self-titled debut could largely be expressed as a cautious optimism. Sure, it was a damn good album, but it balanced so deftly between experimental noise (“Crimewave”) and more traditional dance sounds (“Glitter Pills”) that there was some trepidation that the notorious sophomore slump would see them pull too far to one or the other extreme. Instead, they’ve distilled all the elements that made their debut work so well into a sleek, nearly faultless album. The transcendent but sparse vocals that created some of the debut’s most intriguing moments are here turned hypnotically insistent. And the sometimes failed noise experiments on the debut (“Courtship”) are replaced by well-honed pieces that always combine, puzzle-like, into cohesive songs. Looking back, it seems obvious that this is the album that HEALTH had to make.
Part of the reason Get Color is more consistent than the self-titled disc is the recording process. Whereas the previous album was recorded by the band with a laptop, this effort was recorded onto 2” tape, mixed in Logic, and then recorded back onto tape. The analog recording gives the whole album a warmer, softer feel wherein even the noisiest segments don’t feel out of place next to the more meditative moments. This allows the slower songs (and there are several, with closer “In Violet” coming close to ballad territory) to breathe without jarring transitions into the drum-heavy breakdowns.
Multi-instrumentalist John Famiglietti, during the recording of the album, noted the repetition of Get Color‘s songs, saying that many of them are “very grooved based”. While at the time this sounded like a daunting prospect—repeating the harsher parts of HEALTH would make for a harrowing listen, to say the least—it is instead the album’s most captivating component. The guitar part on “We Are Water”, for instance, provides a focal point around which the vocals and drums can build and recede without losing momentum until the track climaxes before the coda. And the feedback loop on “Die Slow” stays constant for the duration of the song, permeating the entire track with a tone that skirts the boundary between noise and melody.
The discretion with which these songs are composed suggests not only that HEALTH know how to do more with less—anyone who has witnessed the maelstrom of noise the four-piece can create in concert can attest to that—but that they have the sense of dynamics necessary to continue honing their sound in a subtler and more effective direction. Get Color builds on the success of HEALTH in all the right ways, proving the band worthy of an intimidating amount of hype while defying the expectations that come with it.