Music

Zach Hill: Astrological Straits

Hill finds the song form in free-form and stops stroking his ego and starts writing songs.


Zach Hill

Astrological Saints

Website: www.myspace.com/zachhillmusic
Contributors: Les Claypool, Marco Benevento
Label: Ipecac
US Release Date: 2008-08-04
UK Release Date: 2008-09-22
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

The drummer in popular music is one of the most underappreciated visionaries towards making a forward sound. While it’s true that many remain as the backbone of their prospective group, there are a handful of drummers that stand apart from the rest, and have just as much creative input as say, the main songwriter. As of recently, Jim White (Dirty Three) has provided his free-form expertise to beauties such as Nina Nastasia and Cat Power, while Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) is one of the most driving percussive voices in the indie rock world. But how many drummers have the following, talent, and audacity to put out a solo release? Well, if anyone was going to do it, it was Zach Hill of Hella fame.

His debut solo release, Masculine Drugs, was slightly off-putting, followed by the completely atonal freak-out, Shred Earthship, which was nothing more than a ostentatious 77-minute overload. His 3rd release, Astrological Straits has taken him into a direction that transfers over into the territory where bands like Animal Collective, High Places, and his other project, Hella, have carved out a niche. There is mayhem built around psych drum freakouts, but there is also melody that these songs fall into. Usually a song is built around a melody, but with Hill, it vice-versa. The experiments build upon each other, and create a subconscious melody that moves these songs in a forward direction.

The best example of this is on “Toll Road”, moving at a pace that a BPM counter couldn’t even register, there are hooks built among the vocals and forthright three chord progressions. Sure, it finds itself in a trend of glitches, anarchy, and major tempo changes, but it always finds its way back to a resolution that appeases our ears. The most cohesive song on the record, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, is really the only track available with a logical progression – and that’s part of Astrological Straits’ allure.

There are moments that fall short, though, frankly full of egotistical wanking off behind the kit – but they are few and far between on this record, thankfully. “Street People” is a two-minute bombardment of snare drum and obnoxious electronic tones that provide a terrible evolution into an otherwise fantastic track, “Dark Art”. There are also too many effects warping instrumentals and vocals that would’ve sounded much more endearing had they been built around a natural sound. The vocals can become insipid, and the instrumentals can become passé. C’mon, Les Claypool on your record? It was cool to rock Primus in 1994 with the Lollapalooza crowd, but by using the musician that has become a go to guy for records that have no substance nor songwriting skill. If you want the same bass sound that he was using a decade ago, feel free to enlist him. Zach Hill is known for keeping things fresh, but he also knows how to choose a setback, which can be limiting for his overall sound.

Nearly an entire album itself, the second disc takes advantage of choosing the right musician for the job. “Necromancer” is a half-hour escapade into the world of drum and piano, and Hill enlisted the perfect piano man for the outing. Marco Benevento of the Benevento/Russo Duo is one of the more inventive players as far as melding melody and free-form to a less “free jazz” audience– exactly the vision Hill is going for throughout the duration of Astrological Saints.

If Hill and his protégés were to play to an art-punk, Animal Collective conscious crowd, the man would be a hit. But for those keen on a sense of purpose at all times during a record and stellar songwriting, then turn to the next crate, because this isn’t for you. Hill’s vision and aesthetic are strong on Astrological Straits, but he’s going to have a hard time pitching this to any large-scale audience. The average Hella fan might find it too much, while the avant-garde world will find it too little.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image