Without making it sound overly pretentious, HEALTH sees itself as more than just a band. While 2009 was a banner year that included an opening spot on a Nine Inch Nails tour and the release of its second shoegazing noise-punk platter, Get Color, the L.A. outfit knew it could do so much more. Unsatisfied with the traditional “write, record, and tour” routine of most acts, the California quartet has expanded its indie-empire by developing both a clothing line and an on-line variety show. And with so much on its plate these days, it's hardly surprising that HEALTH sometimes skips out on its rehearsals.
“We're supposed to be working on music right now,” bassist John Famiglietti sheepishly admits by phone from his bed at home. “But I am technically working. I'm going over a checklist—we're setting up prizes for the golden tickets right now.”
Like a punk version of Willy Wonka, the group packaged Get Color with coupons entitling some lucky fans to an assortment of personalized items. While HEALTH was excited to whip up some homemade goodies for the contest, the value of some gifts is questionable.
The grand prize is an all-expense-paid trip to Magic Mountain with the band—which includes guitarist Jupiter Keyes, drummer Benjamin Jared Miller, and singer Jake Duzsik—but other items include copies of the new record autographed in blood, and, uh, a bag of cat hair.
“A lot of that stuff is technically crap,” Famiglietti says with a laugh. “Everything you get is an item that is related to the band in some way.”
When it's pointed out that a sack of feline fur could pose a problem for a fan with allergies, the bassist explains that this is the least of HEALTH's worries.
“The guy that is going to Magic Mountain with us actually gets sick on roller coasters and throws up.”
While HEALTH's 2007 self-titled debut was a twisted ride through glitched-out electronics and metal-tinged free jazz, Get Color sees the combo calming down. If only slightly.
The startling scrapes of distorted factory sounds and mechanical blast beats that open “Severin”, for instance, are just as jolting and violent as the outfit's earlier material, but the song quickly transitions into a pepped-up pop drone that Liars wish they had written first.
The biggest departure is the lead single “Die Slow”. Playing like an early-'90s fetish-club favourite, the tune rides a sexy industrial groove, propelled by oscillating synths, police-siren swoops, and Duzsik's blissfully distant moans.
“Lyrics were never meant to be a focal point,” Famiglietti says of his bandmate's generally unintelligible singing style. “The lyrics are never personal. That was a rule we set in the beginning to create this feeling that the music is alienating and cold.”
Despite HEALTH's aesthetic intentions, fans have latched onto “Die Slow”. Famiglietti admits, however, that he's more of a fan of the epic “We Are Water”. Thriving on trilled-out notes and 8-bit Nintendo blips, the group harnesses a nervous energy for the first couple of minutes, before a powder-keg backbeat explodes into a warming wash of ethereal guitar chords.
While “We Are Water” may not be as immediately catchy as “Die Slow”, Famiglietti feels the tune is a taste of what's to come from the combo.
“It's pretty much what we've always been trying to do,” the artist admits. “It's not perfect, because a song like ”˜Die Slow' is more effective and it'll hit way more people, but maybe we can do what we did with ”˜We Are Water' and take it further and do it better.”
HEALTH plays the Biltmore Cabaret tonight (February 4).