I couldn’t tell you how many articles I’ve read over the last two years that predicted the White Stripes would be the next saviors of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll. It seems as though the same journalists who had once lured thousands of adolescent suburbanites into buying Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit records have now turned their attention to the greener pastures of garage-rock land, once they discovered Fred Durst was balding under that ridiculous Red Sox hat of his and Chester Bennington was about as bubble gum as Mandy Moore.
Enter the White Stripes, who, after releasing two albums in relative indie obscurity, became the poster children for modern rock.
Two albums, one sub par movie role, and a highly publicized Hollywood romance later, the White Stripes have become as trendy as Abercrombie (though lacking the blatant nudity), and like all music fads, their popularity is quickly wearing thin among conventional radio listeners.
So while the porno-mag/sometimes rock publication “Rolling Stone” is deciding whether to feature Hilary Duff or that Poison cover band The Darkness on their next cover, Hella will be churning out songs faster than a Janet Jackson halftime striptease. Hella? Yes kids, Hella.
Since 2001, guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill have blessed the indie rock community with a handful of releases whose titles are just as interesting as the music – 2002’s “Hold Your Horse Is,” followed by 2003’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit But Good People” EP. More recently (as in three weeks ago), Hella put forth its latest effort, “The Devil Isn’t Red” – a collection of songs formulated around rambunctious drum-lines and equally as outlandish guitar parts – an amalgam, if you will, of Dungeons and Dragons meets an ADD ridden Black Sabbath (sans Ozzy).
But what separates Hella from the rest of its rock peers (aside from bizarre intra-band marriage and subsequent divorce) and even Sabbath for that matter, is the altogether absence of vocals. Where some bands would suffer under the confines of a purely instrumental approach to songwriting (i.e. every jam band ever), Hella absolutely thrives under ardent minimalism.
“The Devil Isn’t Red” can only be described as the album that beat the hell out of Phish, stole its lunch money and sent the bass player running to perform lewd acts in front of underage children. Couple that with tracks like “Brown Medal 2003” (which sounds like an alien takeover of a school cafeteria), and “Your DJ Parents” (the soundtrack to a nameless 80s era 8-bit Nintendo game), and you’ve got yourself almost 34 minutes of hypnotic ecstasy.
However, along with the rest of Hella’s back catalog, “The Devil Isn’t Red” leaves the group’s creative future in question: How far can a band take its music, limited to only two members and (for the most part) two instruments, without touching on redundancy? Early signs of this issue pour through the speakers on the first tracks, “Hello Great Architect of the Universe,” “Big Time and the Kid,” and “The Mother Could Be You.”
Not exactly the myriad differing songs of the record, these three blend together in such a manner that caresses the fringe of annoyance because of Hill’s uber repetitive drumming pattern, but also presents an awkward stylistic dichotomy in regard to the rest of the album.
I’d bet my hipster iPod that Hella won’t ever be nominated for a Grammy, nor have a million teenage girls shout their name to high heaven, but in face of mainstream pop mediocrity, Hella produces a brand of rock worth a listen.
Key Tracks – “Welcome to the Jungle Baby, You’re Gonna Live!,” “Brown Medal 2003” and “Your DJ Parents.”