Of all of the three dozen or so bands I was fortunate enough to see at SXSW in March of this year, few were as explosive and brain-smackingly exciting as Los Angeles’ HEALTH. The introduction that No Age gave them as a band that will “melt your face” was a fairly good indication of what the band was capable of providing, but even that was only a small hint at the intense bombast that the band would soon unleash. Needless to say, I’m glad the venue was air-conditioned, otherwise their noisy punk rock inferno could have resulted in one big mess.
Though catching HEALTH live is by far the most amazing way to experience their full-frontal assault, their self-titled debut offers a kickass listen, one that comes awfully close to the mind-blowing in-person audio barrage. With ties to the Los Angeles `Smell’ scene that includes the likes of No Age and Mika Miko, HEALTH plays a different kind of punk rock, one that is as much influenced by the noise squalls of The Boredoms as it is by Hüsker Dü. And at its best, music doesn’t get much more intense. Opener “Heaven” is mostly one long build, yet it gradually becomes more melodic and more intricate in its instrumental interplay. After the 36-second “Girl Attorney,” the shuffling beats of “Triceratops” offers a more accessible take on the band’s sound, with hypnotic chanting interspersed with violent, noisy eruptions.
“Crimewave” kicks off with a fierce tom-tom rumble, and a jarring slash of guitar effects, yet becomes a strangely melodic and unsettling standout. “Tabloid Sores” veers back and forth between tribal drums and chanting and psychedelic freakout breakdowns, yet “/ / M \ \” starts off with a bit of a tease, drum and effects shrapnel flying between silent interludes, as, ultimately, a stunning melody breaks through. And oddly enough, “Glitter Pills” even reveals a danceable side to the band (which was later explored further on the band’s remix album Disco). HEALTH isn’t in the business of doing things the conventional way, or even in a very user-friendly manner. Yet for all the vicious feedback that surrounds this album, HEALTH have crafted within its jagged frame a solid album that holds amazing track after amazing track.