Somewhere in Health’s history, a member of the band must have had a terrible experience involving a drum, because these guys beat the holy shit out of every tom, snare, and cymbal as though it were part of some bloody revenge fantasy. One can only imagine how much this band must spend on new drum heads and how frequently these purchases must occur. If you’re new to Health and the previous two sentences didn’t make the following abundantly clear: Health are a ruthless, pummeling machine. They were a ruthless, pummeling machine on their eponymous debut album, and scarier still, on their newest LP, they’re a well-practiced ruthless, pummeling machine.
I should also add the word, “glorious.” Somehow, amid all of the musical violence, there’s something lovable about the adult temper tantrums these guys throw. It could be their occasional bouts of pure unfiltered abandon, or perhaps it’s the way they make room for carefully calibrated industrial noise. More likely, it’s a combination of the two. And Get Color, their latest, proves that marriage is alive and thriving.
It’s certainly a familiar story. It wouldn’t be hard to compile a decent list of bands that started as noise rock, landed a respectable amount of critical acclaim, and then found themselves edging ever so slightly closer to pop. Make no mistake, Get Color is vicious, through and through, but there are beats and hooks here that could make some serious popular headway if properly recontextualized. It’s too early to say, but if Get Color is any indicator, then Health’s current career trajectory suggests they may become commercially viable within a few years. “Die Slow” is pure fire, a bracing shot of rhythmic hell with every instrument working in brutal concert with every other one. “Death +,” much like Battles’ “Atlas,” gleefully rides a mechanized bounce to glory. Hell, you can practically hum along to “We Are Water.”
It should be said that “We Are Water” is one of the few points on Get Color where the vocals do account for a significant percentage of the song’s pop presence. Generally, as was the case on their debut, Health adheres to the My Bloody Valentine school of singing. In other words, nearly every song is sung softly, then dutifully drowned in layers upon layers of reverb and distortion. The difference is, where My Bloody Valentine’s hazy vocals were one of many elements in their sound working to create one tremendously woozy narcotic rush, Health cast that same sort of nebulous voice into a hellish pit, leaving it to inaudibly sing in a vain attempt to make itself heard amid the savage miasma. So yes, Get Color displays an affinity towards normal song craft, but it is still the stuff of nightmares.
But a strong dose of nihilism is to be expected with any Health release. The thrill of Get Color lies in the way that nihilism butts up against an almost terrifying feeling of determination. “Severin” exhibits this duality perfectly: After a fiercely cacophonous series of introductory spasms, “Severin” comes rolling into clear vision as a rollicking exhibition of single-minded force. It’s Health at their most unsettling, but what really worries me is how much I enjoy it.