Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard
ne hand washes the other and both hands wash the face. Hella hands juggle hot bricks; guitarist Spencer Seim has unleashed some brutal post synth-sequence neon dream riffage during their four-year existence, and drummer Zach Hill’s playing is among the most distinctive, kinetic, and imaginative in independent music, probably ever. Things get tough in the Noise-Jazz-Punk camp though—even the fastest hands of the most brutal voyagers get lean on ideas, trip into the standard marks of psychosis, and get plain rote about their freak-outs. It’s not to say that Hella’s music ever gets bogged down in novelty (it doesn’t), but after a few albums, the music begins to ache with its own expiration date, perspiring its self-confined status in the sauna of its own avant premises. Abstractly speaking, the summation of both these more or less solo discs—one for Hill and one for Seim—would be Hella: the Band, an aural flurry with the gait of a frightening epileptic seizure. Though a worthy whole is often more than the sum of its parts (and a nice clean face outshines a dirty one), the same logic forecloses on the ragged beauty of those initial pieces. While Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard is a little long, inconsistent, and ultimately middling, it’s a virtuosic reverse engineering of their own sound that steps back and explores horizons previously taken for granted, reverting to a messy state before musical synthesis fraught with both difficulties and possibilities.
Zach Hill’s Church Gone Wild waxes ecstatic on the darkened fringes of psychedelic gospel-noise, and Seim’s Chirpin’ Hard plods in the perverted abyss of 8-bit video game anthems turned 4-track metal (perverse only because the cruel evolution of influence has fully capitulated to reveal a soundbyte-ready epic rock music predicated on an electronic techno-redux of, well, epic rock music). Both albums are disorganized, totally obliterating the near-Spartan extremism firmly established on the duo’s excellent 2002 debut Hold Your Horse Is and perpetuated through a couple of EPs and 2004’s The Devil Isn’t Red; this indulgence dually obscures and enables the bleary charms of Church/Chirpin’.
Church Gone Wild delivers on its own name; an unrelenting exorcism performed by pitch-shifted voices, tape manipulations, twisted guitars, and the 16-hoofed apocalypse of Hill’s drumming, whose ascendant explosions find some of their best moments through the record’s freeform nature. It primarily shares aesthetics with the mind-cauterizing murk of DIY industrial-Americana, swathing Hill’s nightmarish cantos in rudimentary musique concrète and swampy poetic violence. The twisted claustrophobia of Church is at once its most alluring asset and its easiest detractor—it sucks out the formal/temporal effectiveness of a musical climax by making it nearly perpetual, a fever that just keeps on sweating, but never sweats itself out, at times becoming simply exhausting but no longer thrilling.
Seim’s Chirpin’ Hard grips the same basic joystuck gamer-fetish that characterizes his work with the Advantage, only more excessive and far-out. The format and trajectory is more uniform than Church Gone Wild and certainly more accessible, a pixilated Odyssey that, like Ulysses, comes back with some really great stories but still gets lost for the cartridge-based equivalence of a decade, occasionally crashing against the rocks of a sound whose premise is questionable from the outset. Nevertheless, it turns out some pretty enjoyable moments, conjuring towering four-inch minibosses polluted with effect-pedal ‘roids and the thumb-destroying, key-yielding glory of their defeats.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard will draw anyone to the band that didn’t already enjoy their work. It also might abandon those that do, but that’s not really the point—it’s the sound of two very talented musicians getting their proverbial creative ya-ya’s out, temporarily sullying their good name to lay ground for something potentially even more exciting.