Individually, Guillermo Scott Herren and Zach Hill have collaborated with pretty much everybody in the indie rock, electronic and hip-hop fields. Herren is best known for his work as Prefuse 73, under which Herren has worked with the likes of Ghostface Killah, El-P, Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock, GZA and members of TV on the Radio, Battles, Broadcast and Blonde Redhead, not to mention his other band, Savath and Savalas. Hill, meanwhile, is best known for his drumming in Hella, but his resume includes work with Marnie Stern, Cex, The Ladies, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Crime in Choir, Goon Moon and his own solo work. By sheer odds it would seem that, really, it was only a matter of time before the two musicians would find themselves collaborating on a project of their own, which the two have called Diamond Watch Wrists. And the first album to come of that collaboration is Ice Capped at Both Ends, an experimental pop release every bit as idiosyncratic as anything Herren or Hill has done before, but altogether different.
Neither reminiscent of Hella nor Prefuse 73, Ice Capped at Both Ends is a breezy and arty pop record with few of the traces of spastic riff-rock or glitch hip-hop, respectively, that these two are known for. Rather, it’s an album built on light and airy melodies, jazzy textures and post-rock tendencies. Think The Sea and Cake, but with a drummer that smacks the living shit out of his trap set. That’s essentially what’s happening here. Take a track like “Onward Push Me Out,” which billows and floats, but remains firmly backed by Hill’s muscular thwack. There’s a slowly grooving psychedelic chant to “Dot Org Green Consumer,” one of the album’s most accessible, yet still dense and certainly bizarre tracks. “Start Wrong” is certainly in the bizarre camp, nebulous and swathed in effects. Meanwhile, “Speculative Forensic Investigation” is a commanding and somber dirge that ranks as one of the album’s most strongly melodic moments, as does “Epidemic Episodes of Epidemics.” And “Taped Up Swagger,” with its woozy acoustic guitars, almost imagines a Prefuse 73 remix of Iron & Wine, which is pretty darn cool sounding.
What’s most fascinating about Ice Capped at Both Ends is the direction it takes from the beginning of the album toward its conclusion. Things are disorienting at first, a bit chaotic, somewhat misshapen even. Herren’s sedateness and Hill’s spastic attack seem a bit at odds. But as the album progresses, more prominent melodies come into focus, and they start to become (gasp) even a little catchy…almost, anyway. Nonetheless, Ice Capped is a challenging listen, but it only takes a few tracks to warm up to this oddly enchanting blend of artful, experimental pop sounds.