The LA noise band's change of direction is more accessible than the group’s atonal work in experimental thrash, but ‘Death Magic’ has been coming since the band formed ten years ago
If you like HEALTH, there’s a good chance that you’ve been trying to push them on some of your friends perhaps since 2007. It hasn’t been easy, has it? Try again after August 7 and you’ll almost certainly have better luck.
Habitually referred to as a noise band, HEALTH were so ensconced in LA’s mid-2000s DIY scene they recorded their debut album at The Smell – a downtown all-ages/no-drink-or-drugs venue that is to Los Angeles experimental punk music what The Hacienda was to acid house. Eight years after its release, ‘HEALTH’ is a strikingly original record of precise thrash that can only be described by the sum of its strange parts, and vaguely likened to Deerhoof and Japanese thunder drums band Boredoms. It’s a short, atonal album, made up of unidentified noise, occasional, ghosting vocals and what seems to be zero structure, chopped through with half-second silences. It was recorded at night by a band without a clue but with an exact concept. Rats would run out from underneath The Smell’s stage. HEALTH would have to stop recording when the neighbouring gay bar’s reggaeton would register on their archaic soundboard. Every morning they’d have to step over a fresh turd as they left, which they wrote off as a joke by some local homeless guys. “One time they hid it under the lock and Jake touched it,” bassist John Famiglietti told me when I first met the band in 2008. “That was pretty funny.”
Two years later, HEALTH released ‘Get Color’. A note on its inner sleeve read: This record should be played at a minimum of 90DB. The Smell and its founding manager, Jim Smith, remained the first two acknowledgements on the thank you list, but the band had recorded their second album in a studio with a producer – Manny Nieto. There were more vocals and a noted move towards the verse/chorus structure, but ‘Get Color’ was still a noise record above anything else – Jake Duzsik’s disembodied vocals were still too indecipherable to sing along to; a recurring metallic grind still put your teeth on edge; the record was even louder.
There was an anomaly on ‘Get Color’ though, and ‘Die Slow’ – released five month’s before the album – became its red herring. It’s an electronic banger. Fans heard it following ‘HEALTH//DISCO’ – a remix LP of the group’s debut album that featured reworks from Pictureplane, Nosaj Thing and Crystal Castles – and presumed that HEALTH were sticking with dance music. Many welcomed the idea, too – a whole album of tracks that were just as heavy but made for boiler rooms in industrial clubs rather than DIY noise venues.
Six years later, HEALTH have made that album and called it ‘Death Magic’.