Hella’s odd, math-rock style leaves listeners tripping

Eli Wilson

With odd-metered time signatures, challenging rhythmic patterns and spontaneous transitions, math-rock is a genre that tests the limits of both the musician and the listener. Don Caballero and King Crimson are the godfathers of math-rock, paving the way for groups like The Mars Volta, and more recently, Hella. Hella is the Ren & Stimpy of math-rock: chaotic, intimidating and strangely enjoyable, this dynamic duo serves up a heaping plate of odd-metered, spastic music that will have your body dislocated in a matter of milliseconds.

Sargent House, known for sheltering on-the-rise bands such as Maps & Atlases, Zechs Marquise and well-known groups such as the Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group, has been the nurturing mother to Hella’s growth, which has consisted of four studio albums, lineup changes and a very bloody snare drum (those who are devout Hella followers will understand). Now, returning with their fifth album, Tripper, Hella proves that they have what it takes to tame their otherworldly sound and still remain true to their spastic nature.

On opening track “Headless,” the group treads in familiar territory, serving up buzzing guitar and cracking drums that are reminiscent of their debut album, Hold Your Horse Is. “Yubacore” epitomizes the band’s growth; transitions from delightfully cacophonous guitar riffs from Spencer Seim, to polyrhythmic, body-numbing drums from Zach Hill, the song explodes with droning guitars and off-the-wall drumming patterns. “Psycho Bro” allows Hill to show off his self-taught technique. Pounding his bass pedal as if he were a living incarnate of John Bonham with an abundance of hyperactivity, Hill easily shifts between every part of his set, his thumping bass fighting against the snap, crackle and pop of his snare and cymbals.

Seim’s syncopated and powerful guitar is matrimonial with Zach’s destructive, and captivating drumming style. They compliment one another with simultaneous hits, or call-and-response patterns that are absolutely impressive.

The duo’s style is peppered with punk, experimental and noise rock. Songs such as, “Long Hair,” or “On the Record,” a two-minute, 17-second hardcore punk roller coaster, indicate the duo’s ability to incorporate sounds and styles that started off with fellow California rock acts such as, the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies.

Hella is not for the faint of heart; they confidently throw hard-to-digest material at their listeners, testing their limits. Similar to label mates Tera Melos, Hella has learned to channel their chaotic energy, creating an album that feels much more controlled and organic compared to past releases.

Hella will not be a household name any time soon, but the duo’s growth as a band and as musicians is undoubtedly apparent. Veteran or recently introduced, Tripper will have you tripping, but in all the right ways.


Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Hella’s new album a ‘spastic’ success