f you're reading this sentence, congratulations on not judging this band by its, ah, unorthodox name. Common knowledge as it is that around 99.44% of all band names suck outright; this Sacramento duo's moniker is particularly egregious due to its "fraternal" associations. Never having heard the word "hella" before I started college, I quickly associated it with the Greek-housed jackasses who obnoxiously appropriated it as slang for "extremely" or "absolutely." Add that to the spot-on South Park episode where Cartman abuses the term ad nauseam and you've got a piece of linguistic offal I'd never want to associate with anything remotely interesting. But the band's boneheaded name belies the spastic insanity contained within Hold Your Horse Is, a record that ensures Hella will never have to share a bill with similarly named boneheads like Endo, Dope, or Orgy.
Hella builds upon the mathy, explosive unpredictability exemplified by Don Caballero's What Burns Never Returns to exhilarating effect. Several groups have taken up Don Cab's progressive, mind-expanding legacy in the years since their dissolution, including Lightning Bolt, Orthrelm and the Oxes, but I daresay Hella is the most compulsively listenable of the pack. They won't be playing the VMAs anytime soon, but the melodic and rhythmic invention they unleash had me literally singing along. The two of them frequently exercise their ability to alter time signatures and tempos in seconds, and to fill those seconds with as many tapped guitar notes and snare hits as humanly possible.
The album begins with a bleepy Nintendophonic soundtrack that may or may not be sampled from an actual video game. Although it's the only appearance of lo-tech synths on the album, the track serves as strangely appropriate theme music for Hella's ADD-core, for lack of more precise terminology. The first "real" song, "Biblical Violence," packs in maybe three or four tempo/time shifts in its first couple minutes--it's tough to say exactly, since the band's rhythm is so erratic, you could argue that the concept of "time signatures" doesn't even apply to them. In addition to being technically inscrutable, "Violence" flat-out rocks like nothing I've ever heard before (someone please educate me as to these guys' musical forebears!).
The other trick Hella loves besides tapping and machine-gun snare salvos is 50+ bpm changes. I can't cite exact numbers because I'm too lazy to bust out the TI-85, but the intro to "Republic of Rough and Ready" sees the dynamic duo (never has the epithet been more appropriately applied) incorporating a instantaneous bpm shift of at least 50 within a single repeated riff. That's something I can confidently I have never heard in all my years as a math-rock enthusiast.
Hold Your Horse Is continues to redefine obsolete concepts of rhythm, melody and perhaps even music itself throughout its 34-minute running time. The only real disappointment is "Brown Metal," which juxtaposes a static drum pattern against an equally boring chord progression for four minutes. Given its wildly imaginative and volatile neighbors, the tune's inclusion is puzzling and kind of a letdown. But Hella bring it live on everything else, and if they don't change the way you listen to music forever like the packaging says, they'll at least hold your attention hostage when they're on the speakers and turn heads on the radio and on mixtapes. I really don't know how they'll top this record's incredible originality and complexity; the best they could hope for is to prolong the magic with more of their methodical madness.
Reviewed by: Deen Freelon
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01