The inference is present in the album title: GET COLOR. On their debut record HEALTH appeared wilfully obtuse, ready to astound us with their noise credentials and communal sensibilities. On their follow up they leave behind to an extent the harsh and occasionally atonal metallic passages of noise and bombast, massaging them instead into stricter structural frameworks. It could be said that they eschewed beauty in their earlier work. Now splashes of colour and warmth are added to the dislocations to great effect.
The signs of this were first sown back in March with the release of ‘Die Slow’ as a single. On release I was unsure as to whether it was a continuation of the work started by remix album Disco or a signpost toward a brave new direction. It sounds not unlike NIN without the chest-beating, or if somebody had enervated Drum’s Not Dead era Liars from their (beautiful) but somnabulant tone poems. This tells only part of the story. It stands alone but is perfectly absorbed within the album. Techno-metal sounds like the worst subgenre on earth, but it isn’t that far from the truth. A dirty arpeggiated synth announces the track before being overpowered by a pounding beat and bestial guitars. This is then juxtaposed with the prettiness of the hook laden chorus that drags it from sounding inhumane to something much more carnal and elementary.
Suitably wrong footed by HEALTH displaying an unabashed commercial nous on ‘Die Slow’ (they admitted in interviews that it was written to be a “Top 10 single”), the rest of the album is a refinement of their aesthetic. Opener ‘In Heat’ commences with a hazy, amorphous, indistinct passage of noise that is brutally interrupted by tribalistic drums and glass-like guitars.
HEALTH’s output is industrial music in the way that This Heat or Throbbing Gristle could be considered industrial. ‘Death+’ takes an agglomeration of samples then adds shimmering synths, descending and traversing and playfully interacting with the rest of the song. Cut and shut noise, barely audible processed screams – the whole thing becomes a vast, dissonant edifice of sound. This is explored further on ‘Eat Flesh’, with harsh slabs of metallic noise that sound like the death cry of a T-1000, gradually ossified beyond recognition. These intrusions are perfectly amalgamated into the mix. The abrasions are still intact but with a greater accuracy and precision and beauty. A simple dichotomy it may be, but it is clear and present on tracks like ‘Nice Girls’, with its aching melody ripped apart by thunderous drums and face-ripping shrieks.
The album contains many beautiful moments amongst the abrasive elements. The sunclouds of noise and dream like plateaus of ‘Before Tigers’ are echoed in the brief interludes of ‘Severin’ (named after the Banshees bassist or the ex-Aberdeen midfielder perhaps?) and the fathoms deep, dub-like moments of ‘We Are Water’. Both latter tracks contain exhilarating guitar breaks like shards of broken glass that wouldn’t sound out of place on Metal Box. Album closer ‘In Violet’ is the longest song on the record and throughout its six minutes fourteen seconds of ambient drones, glistening electronica and spectral atmospherics it conjures vast panoramas and open spaces before slowly being consumed by looped synths. Austere, fragile, beautiful.
There is a detachment in the melodic abstractions of Jake Dzusik’s vocals. Amidst the chaos they appear ethereal and heavenly – processed, mutated, androgenised and amputated from their source. A layer of texture rather than a focal point, they anchor the music and provide respite from the uncompromising nature of the music. Unfathomable though the lyrics may be, the melodies are resonant and have a humanist element to them.
Impeccably programmed and arranged, Get Color is the moment that it all makes sense. Nine defined songs that both standalone and combine seamlessly. Their debut was self-recorded over nine months at LA venue The Smell, whereas this time around they have taken the traditional route and recorded in a studio with an engineer. Whether that has led to a newfound clarity of purpose is unclear. Spending nine months of your lives obsessing over pitch correction and drum sounds can probably take it out of you after a while. What is a surety is that HEALTH have stepped up on this record, and released an exciting, cerebral triumph of an album. It really is THAT good.