Savoring The Smell

HEALTH's two albums will not cause drowsiness

The Smell, a dingy music club in downtown Los Angeles, earned mainstream prominence a couple of years back when it was featured in The New Yorker.

The article, a feature on The Smell standouts No Age, ushered in critical adulation for the grimy, unpolished sound of the bands connected to the all-ages venue, which is filled with cobwebs, stickers, used books and an all-volunteer staff. It's no surprise the bands to emerge from The Smell have been both endearingly rough around the edges and enthralling.

Fitting somewhere in between The Smell's gauzy No Age and funky Abe Vigoda are the cacophonous noisemakers HEALTH: Jacob Duzsik (vocals, guitar), John Famiglietti (bass, percussion), Jupiter Keyes (guitar, percussion) and Benjamin Miller (drums). After releasing two albums on Lovepump United--their eponymous debut in 2007 and a remix album, DISCO, last year--HEALTH have drawn comparisons to the percussive incantations of Liars and face-melting atonality of Boredoms.

HEALTH's DIY punk ethos is evident throughout their raucous, succinct and frenzied debut. Famiglietti, speaking via e-mail, noted that four months after forming, the band "had a nine-minute set and six songs," which explains why their 11-track album still comes in at less than 30 minutes; their 11-track remix album, however, is nearly an hour long.

Studies in contrast are typical for HEALTH, who took nine months to record their debut at The Smell. The album itself is a dizzying affair, vacillating from the pulsating opener "Heaven," to the instrumental maelstrom of "Girl Attorney," to the hazy acoustics of "//M\\>\\>," to the monkish incantations of closer "Lost Time." The album is an experience that is as thrilling as it is draining.

For those who can't get past the occasional grating dissonance contained within HEALTH, there's DISCO. Here, the skeletal presence of tracks are murmuring under the surface of things like CFCF's remix of "Triceratops," which appears to marry the theme song from the film Halloween with late-'80s Nintendo music.

"When we were recording the album, there was always a plan for DISCO, but it ended up on the back burner until Lovepump wanted to revive the idea," Famiglietti wrote. "The main purpose behind DISCO is to make sure these remixes weren't forgotten, y'know, left in an untitled jumble on your iTunes. ... We told all the remixers to forget about the integrity of the song and just try to make a great song."

Given the aurally frazzling effects of HEALTH's debut, it's not surprising it took some time for listeners to catch on.

"People started to care four months after (the debut) came out," Famiglietti noted. This heightened interest likely coincided with the attention The Smell was receiving, and helped precipitate both DISCO--containing a Crystal Castle remix of "Crimewaves" that the band jokes is more popular than the rest of their entire catalogue--and opening slots on the fall 2008 tours of Nine Inch Nails and Of Montreal.

Famiglietti notes that much of the perception about The Smell--that it is an artists' collective of likeminded bands--is actually true.

"The Smell scene is completely real. It's been a scene for a very long time, long before we began playing. Everyone is friends and has been (friends) before anyone outside of L.A. even cared."

Interestingly, one of the major reasons The Smell served as recording studio for HEALTH's debut was because the percussion-obsessed group was chasing "the drum sound we heard on a live cassette we recorded there," Famiglietti wrote. Of course, there were also financial considerations: "It was also a matter of necessity; we wanted a giant live room with lots of character, with our budget (next to zero). If we couldn't get the record sounding like we wanted in our heads, we wanted to sound special, with character. The Smell has an incredibly unique sound."

Indeed, The Smell's cavernous sound is a huge plus on HEALTH's more droning or clangorous passages, yet the venue still made for a difficult recording facility.

"Never again at The Smell; it was a nightmare recording process," Famiglietti wrote.

In fact, the group has been recording their sophomore album, Get Color, "with an engineer at a modest studio." Nevertheless, Famiglietti noted that this experience may also be a one-off trial, as "after this experience, we plan to return to doing it ourselves."

Either way, HEALTH present an incredibly visceral and commanding live show. Ultimately, for those of The Smell vanguard, going it alone with some of your good friends at your side just sounds best.

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