HEALTH’s self-titled debut was a terse onslaught of noise. The shortest bits were hit-and-run squalls. The longer songs — some dared to go over two minutes — were 10-car pile-ups of metallic crunch and concrete thud. It was as dense and difficult as it was hard to ignore. But despite flourishes of electronica weaving their way into that album, it still didn’t sound like an album that would lend itself to a remix.
Which is what makes HEALTH//DISCO such a strange and wonderful release. Unlike many a remix album, this is no vanity project or timely cash-in. And, also like many remix albums, it is not useless garbage. Far from it, actually. In fact, this album might have to be considered when the listmakers get together to compile the best electronica of 2008. It is that strong.
The album doesn’t rework the songs from HEALTH so much as use them as a jumping off point, and the places these tracks jump to are energetic and surprising. One need look no further than the three remix versions of “Triceratops” here to see how inspiration from the source material pushed these artists to all corners of the musical world. The Acid Girls were so taken by “Triceratops”, they remix it twice here — “Rmx A” and “Rmx B” — and the two tracks are wholly different. Both take the guitar shrieks of the original and cut them up into staccato bits to lay a funked-up foundation to the track. But where “Rmx A” throbs with dancefloor sweat, “Rmx B” slows down just a bit, speeds up and loops the vocals deep in the track to acheive a colder, more ghostly feel. Later on in the record, Cfcf takes on “Triceratops” and uses it to reimagine a ’70s horror movie soundtrack. The slow build and steady drumming, under layers of synths, build a big suspense that sustains through the whole track.
Other remixes sound straightforward at first, but reveal compelling eccentricities. Thrust Lab’s take on “Problem Is” could sound like the backing track to your favorite level on Mega Man, which in itself is a worthy feat. But the way the drums subtly shift throughout the track — a constant kraut-rock rigidity interrupted by tribal banging and punk rock breakdowns — makes its a track that could never fade into the background. Pictureplanes’ remix of “Lost Time” straightens out the original’s drums and piles them over and over again on top of each other, building to an infectious communal celebration. Later, C.L.A.W.S. takes the same track and stretches it out and cools it down to a slow, spacey thump.
On the whole, HEALTH//DISCO draws you in much more than HEALTH. It is an album with a completely different feel and objective than its predecessor. If HEALTH was brooding and dense, tensed up in the corner of the room daring you to come near, then HEALTH//DISCO is its charming cousin. It draws you in, wins you over with its infectious zeal, and then pushes you into some serious late-night trouble. And while it doesn’t rework its source material so much as re-imagine it, the album does cast HEALTH in a different light. To see what the remixes mine from those songs is to see music that isn’t quite as confrontational and stand-offish as it might seem. There is a joy buried under the snarl and squall of those songs. A joy that all the best music — be it happy, sad, angry, or calm — has in common. A joy that can well up in you and take over if you let it.
But make no mistake, HEALTH’s brand of joy is a sinister one, and HEALTH//DISCO brings that to the forefront in all its wild-eyed glory. So go ahead and get lost in this great album, but be ready to accept the consequences.