Hella Tripper (Sargent House)
I can imagine the two members of Hella, electric guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill, shouting “Regroup! Regroup!” and running around, before the making of their latest album. Let me explain. Hella began as a two-piece, in the vein of similarly intense duos like Ruins and Lightning Bolt, playing rigorous, unrestrained proggy math rock. Along the way, the group developed a penchant for experiments, including the double-album Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard, which consisted of a pair of solo albums by Seim and Hill under the Hella name, and the Acoustics EP, which featured Hella reworkings with acoustic guitars and brushed drums, still relentless and impossibly busy. However, Hella’s most drastic experiment to date is its foray as a five-member band with a (gasp!) lead singer, featured on its 2007 album There’s No 666 in Outer Space—a misstep (though kudos for trying) in this writer’s opinion.
The new Hella album, Tripper, features the original core duo of Seim and Hill (who has recently been playing in guitar-shred mistress Marnie Stern’s band) playing instrumentals, and upon hearing this, fans may nod knowingly and recognize it as a sort of return to form. That is, it’s like being shaken violently for 40 minutes, and it might very well be a mind-blowing experience to newcomers who haven’t experienced Hella or its ilk. Those familiar, however, may crave a little variation, as the songs start to bleed together; more odd, warped sections, like the distorted beginning of “Kid Life Crisis” and the manipulated middle passage of “Furthest,” would have helped the album. Is “more of the same” better than “an experimental misstep”? In Hella’s case, yes, but perhaps it is a necessary cleansing of the palate—a little slice of ginger to go with the dollop of wasabi, for this group that has never remained still for too long.