For their new long-player, US ‘noise rock’ band Health – as Wikipedia so affectionately term them – have opted to export their row to a new genre. However, doubtless a little tired from all those free gigs they’ve been playing, the band have delegated the job of actually writing the tracks for the album to their friends, who, fortuitously, just happen to be a clutch of some of the hottest remixers around. The result is HEALTH//DISCO, an after-party that almost doubles the slender twenty-nine minutes running time of its parent.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised, though: Health have long considered their output to be dance music. It’s just that here they make the case that bit more overtly.
It’s an impressive opening address, too, Triceratops’ familiar cataclysm of drums and hypnotic chants augmented with twisted, distorted riffs that do an impeccable job at distracting us from the nagging thought that, well, remix albums don’t tend to be very good.
Indeed, the diversionary tactics continue apace, the tracklisting playing out like a kind of sonic Shock and Awe that bludgeons us into such a state of delirium that cogent thought isn’t possible. The BPM’s are never merciful, and with no gaps between tracks we can barely draw breath before the involuntary twitching of our hips and limps takes hold once more. It’s relentless, stamina-sapping stuff: you can already envision this soundtracking darkened rooms in Guantanamo, replete with flashing strobes and regressing captives.
As for the tracks themselves, you’ll already be familiar with Crystal Castles’ take on Crimewave, considered by many writers to be one of the best tracks of last year. It’s one of the strongest here, too, the Game Boy bleeps and glitching vocals melding well with the insistent rhythms underneath. Elsewhere, Pictureplane’s reinvention of Lost Times as euphoric trance stands out, largely jettisoning the Gregorian chants of the original in favour of tribal drumming and layers of melodic synths, and Narctrax’s version of Heaven would do a pretty good job at getting you evicted.
Certainly the opening quintet set an assured high-water mark, and it’s after this that the tide starts to ebb leaving the flotsam of those early fears exposed, particularly when the source material begins to be recycled – however great they are, having three versions of Triceratops is just inviting a deja vu that no quantity of beats per minute can displace. Even despite a spirited attempt by CFCF at reviving the theme tunes of 80’s fantasy cartoons, from track six onwards the album does become somewhat one-note. The C.L.A.W.S remix of Lost Time doesn’t help matters, staking out a decent beat and then leaving it to die, but the underlying issue lies with the genre itself: at a time where most of us have had at least some exposure to music production technologies, it’s difficult to view many of these tracks as being much more than just a conveyor belt of endless scrolling loops, an exodus of coloured boxes heading west for a new life. The latter tracks suffer simply because by the time we get to them we’re weary of being able to predict the breakdown and swell of layers with such alarming accuracy, particularly as they’re shorn of any vocal lines or musical distinctions that might hook in our minds.
Undoubtedly it’s a very effective dance record, and in a club everything here would sound great. As an album, though, HEALTH//DISCO is encumbered by the very tracks that have birthed it: Health’s debut was one of the most striking and original releases of last year, and these new forms can’t help but truncate much of the apocalyptic chaos of their forebears, hammering them into an ill-fitting box of 4/4 timings and homogenised rhythms.
Perhaps it’s unreasonable to have expected otherwise, but ultimately, whilst certainly far more than a mere curio, as an attempt to advance the band’s palette it’s more parasitic than symbiotic, drawing upon more than it gives back in return. Bet it gets you dancing, though.