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Misdiagnosed

HEALTH's volcanic noise-pop gets a new finish

health's music used to be "evil," but now it's "sad."

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 9/23/2009

Health, Double Dagger, Pictureplane, and Shams

Sonar, Sept. 26

For more information visit sonarbaltimore.com

There's a knee-jerk tendency on the part of some musicians to avoid their own press-especially the potshots. But ask HEALTH singer/guitarist Jake Duzsik to single out what he sees as the weirdest take on what his band does, and he'll point you to the comments trailing a Stereogum review of the Echo Park, Calif.-based quartet's 2008 South By Southwest performance: "homo-retarded temper tantrum."

It's a hollow jibe. The music that Duzsik, guitarist/keyboard player Jupiter Keyes, bassist/Zoothorn player John Famiglietti, and drummer Benjamin Jared "B.J." Miller make together is rigorously concise to the point of obsessive compulsive: strained, coiled synths rippling and gnawing away at glow-in-the-dark stalagtite riffs as schizophrenic drumbeats nail everything to a disquieting bleakness. Insinuated into the mix, Duzsik's doubled and tripled vocals bounce between angelic beneficence and eroticized nausea, as though he's being ushered by invisible forces through the contours and around the curves of HEALTH's noise-spasm-qua-dance-12-inch napalm dirges.

One comes away from its 2007 self-titled debut and its new album Get Color (both Lovepump United) tweaked and thrilled, yet slightly unsettled by the sense that each disc seems to end before it really begins. And the band's name comes across less like a misnomer than an in-joke: the group's blacklit, sizzling pulsations suggest radon-huffing malignancy, not well-being. Theirs is the sound of bad times translated into epic underground pop, of drunken midnight car chases where pursuer and quarry fear neither fate nor one another.

Indeed, in a August e-mail interview from Berlin-where the band members are renting an apartment for use as a "home base" during a European tour-Duzsik characterizes the differences between HEALTH and Get Color this way: "The tag line that we've been using is that the first album was 'evil,' and this one is 'sad.'"

The crystalline, sickly nature of HEALTH's noise pulses belies almost prototypical beginnings. Duzsik and Keyes met while attending Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. "I knew I wanted to start a band," Duzsik remembers. "Then I met John [Famiglietti] working at a guitar store in Hollywood, and the three of us started playing together. We met B.J. [Miller] through Craigslist. I showed up at his house to check out a bike he was selling, and he was out on a drum kit in his front yard, just shredding."

Released shortly following the band's 2005 formation, HEALTH was a goulash of synth propulsion, cyborg punk minimalism, and tamed noise eruptions; making heads or tails of what the band was up to was next to impossible, even as its weird sample loops, sub-industrial espionage, and honeyed vocal undulations seduced, albeit unwittingly. Get Color feels darker, less manic, more refined and conducive to live audience gratification, suggesting that weeks spent opening for pop-industrial behemoth Nine Inch Nails on last year's Lights in the Sky tour rubbed off.

"Seeing a rock show on that scale was really inspiring," Duzsik says. "In terms of presentation, it was influential to see how much of an experience they create for their fans. We were certainly trying to progress in terms of songwriting. We have a strong identity as a band, but we don't want our albums to be a recapitulation to what we did before. I think [Get Color] is more concerned with melody."

The phalanx of burbling hooks buoying "In Heat" bears that out, as questing, filtered riffs refract off of one another, shimmering like sunlight-saturated diamonds and Miller's drum fills rattle and burst. With its skyscraper-sized synth chords and trampolining Transformers-esque effects, anthemic single "Die Slow" fairly screams out for remixes and celeb DJ pimping. "Eat Flesh" registers as the sheathed-in-barbed-wire underbelly of a NIN pop hit, just scaly and slimy and barebones, thick of skeletal electro-thorns and threshing drums. "We Are Water" is a blacklit nocturnal rampage in search of the Michael Mann film soundtrack it deserves. And stormy, blistering mindfuck "Nice Girls" comes on like Los Angeles art-metal institution Tool, all nuanced roil and concrete canyon menace.

Get Color clocks in at around 33 minutes-four longer than HEALTH-but it doesn't feel appreciably longer. "I think brevity can be extremely important," Duzsik says. "I know that no-one listens to entire albums anymore, but if we view our record as a piece of art, I want you [to] finish it and then think What just happened?, and then put it on again. We don't want you to get bored. The Stooges' Funhouse is 36 minutes long. Perfect."

Emboldened, they've forgone day jobs and walked away from health insurance-Famiglietti was a document specialist, Miller did time as an antique-store clerk, Keyes used to teach ESL classes, and Duzsik used to be a medical historian-to focus on HEALTH. "For better or worse, we live off the band." And as ethereal as its cloistered dance-pop can sound, the band members' outside hobbies and interests are downright middle-class conventional.

"John is really into Dungeons and Dragons," Duzsik says. "B.J. enjoys running and yoga ball exercises, Jupiter is on a quest to make the perfect burrito, and I've been trying to read Gravity's Rainbow for six months."

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