Some music is just fucking weird for the sake of being fucking weird. Other music stretches the dissonance of incongruity to new extents and tears at the tendons of “normal” in order to pull out a sound that is intense and borderline insane.
Zach Hill’s Astrological Straits is a little of each, I’m sure, but the elements join forces in such a forceful way that the strident, obnoxious, ingenious record is hard to resist.
Hill is an expressionist drummer, songwriter, and visual artist hell-bent on destroying modern concepts of sound. Probably best known as the drummer for Sacramento-born Hella, Hill gets to be the agitator for his own bizarre spectacle with his solo debut. And he’s not alone: Les Claypool, Marnie Stern (who is fucking excellent beyond belief!), Chino Moreno, Randy Randall, Tyler Pope, Steve Borth, and Hella bandmates Carson McWhirter and Josh Hill all play roles in this diabolical pageant.
“I’ve always been more influenced by people like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, to name a few, than by other drummers,” he notes. “Those non-drummers’ ideas and free-form expression are what I’m trying to apply to the drum set.”
Free-form expression is undeniably all over this record.
Hill’s debut is almost triumphant in its cleverness and spirit. His transcendence on the drums drives each song to culmination, taking hold of the listener by the feet and dangling him or her upside down for loose change.
Dividing Astrological Straits into songs or tracks is pretty much a meaningless enterprise. Zach Hill has constructed walls of clatter and resonance. He allows their survival through his spotless percussion, driving the noise from the kit with imaginative, instinctive care. Music unfolds in fluent and odd ways, calling back to some of the ever-shifting bands led by Zappa and Miles Davis for inspiration.
There is splendour in the pandemonium.
Astrological Straits features two discs of great fucking noise rock. The first disc’s 13 tracks run the gamut of Flaming Lips-esque rock (“Stoic Logic”) and electro-pop (“Dark Art”). Marnie Stern’s luscious riffage takes hold on “Astrological Straits” and the stone-faced “Uhuru.” The pressing “Iambic Strays” sounds inhuman in its soul-altering anarchy.
The second disc features a 33-minute single-take expedition that will critically test your sonic sensibilities. “Necromancer” features Marnie Stern as a narrator and heart-pounding percussion.
“I really wrestled with the idea of including that second disc,” Hill says. “People’s attention spans today don’t necessarily invite listening to long records, but I decided I couldn’t obsess about that.”
Astrological Straits is a sonic challenge. For many, the noise and swirling percussion will be forbidding. But for others who prefer originality, freshness, and passion in their music, Zach Hill’s debut will exceed expectations. It is an exigent record, for certain, but all true art usually is.
Video for “Dark Art” from Astrological Straits: