LA noise nerds HEALTH have been blurring the lines between dance and noise since they climbed out of the “Smell Scene” (the DIY community built around L.A. venues including The Smell and Il Corral) in the mid-aughts. Much of abrasive texture that surrounds their music can be traced to their use of the Zoothorn (a microphone run through effects pedals to a guitar amp).
Their earliest recordings, made during off hours at The Smell, drew critical comparisons to Boredoms and Liars. But with subsequent LPs and remix records, the band slowly refined its identity, as Jacob Duzsik’s androgynous vocals shifted toward a higher register and some of the bands’s rougher melodic edges became smooth hooks.
Ahead of HEALTH’s show this Thursday at Market Hotel, with Yvette and Dreamcrusher (two of Brooklyn’s best noise acts), here’s a chronological guide to how the four-piece has pulled off the tricky combination of harsh and fun — a blend that, obviously, means they’re even better live.
2007: “Girl Attorney”
Before they started writing “Girl Attorney,” HEALTH’s members admitted their biggest influences were rooted in “classic rock,” specifically Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Television. But once they stumbled upon the Zoothorn, their sound took a dramatic shift, and “Girl Attorney” marked a new beginning. “We were fucking around one night and stumbled across it,” former guitarist Jupiter Keyes told an interviewer in 2010. “Jerked ourselves off for like an hour or two jamming, then decided we should build a song around the sounds we were able to find. Really it’s manipulated feedback.”
2008: “CRIMEWAVE (Crystal Castles Remix)”
Crystal Castles’ debut single was a remix of the fourth track on HEALTH’s self-titled debut LP (the original was arguably the standout moment of the record). Alice Glass sings the song’s few lyrics through a robot filter as Ethan Kath wraps the original’s rhythmic core with a chiptune sheen. It barely sounds anything like the original, instead becoming a complementary pastiche of Crystal Castles’ Gameboy ennui and Health’s vocal manipulations. As Alice Glass and Ethan Kath’s stars rose, so did HEALTH’s, albeit more slowly.
2009: “Die Slow”
Released as a 7″ in advance of HEALTH’s sophomore LP, Get Color, “Die Slow” washed a pop-song structure in the crunchy textures of the band’s earlier work. Duzsik’s breathy vocals sound more androgynous than ever, and the pedal nerds went nuts trying to figure out how the band got their robot-factory sounds. Get Color takes some of its industrial cues from Nine Inch Nails, who brought HEALTH on as openers for a leg of their tour that year.
2010: “Die Slow (Tobacco Remix)”
Get Color’s breakout track gets the remix treatment no fewer than five times on the bonus-track version of their remix record DISCO2, and the gentle syncopation on the beat of Tobacco’s remix makes it the best. By this point, HEALTH had firmly established themselves as a band whose remix records are at least as good as the originals, as they showed on the original DISCO, which included that “CRIMEWAVE” remix. Despite the chaotic nature of their original compositions, the patterns they use as building blocks seem to persistently inspire other artists and DJs.
2012: Max Payne 3 OST
Scoring a longform visual work like a film or video game is no small feat; doing so when your fan base has been waiting for a new record for three years seems inadvisable. And actually getting those fans to like it? Near impossible. But HEALTH’s score for Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3 was a success all around, judging by both the response from the game’s fans and the band’s. HEALTH paired Max‘s slow neo-noir not only with abrasive tones but also with some surprisingly delicate, almost classical passages, suppressing their signature chaotic panic-attack aesthetic until moments when the narrative really demanded a blitz. They even got noms from the Spike Video Game Awards for Best Score and Best Song (“Tears”).
2015: “New Coke”
HEALTH’s first proper LP since 2009, last year’s Death Magic, fully realized the industrial disco and pop aesthetics the band had long been headed toward. Some fans were disappointed in the glossy sound, but the shift seemed inevitable, and it largely worked. Early single “New Coke” features a blaring multilayered guitar sample that sounds as if it came from Mad Max: Fury Road’s flamethrower guitarist, and a video that starts out cryptic and ends with some gross-out visuals; as always, HEALTH seem to be having a lot of fun.
HEALTH play Market Hotel on September 29.