Thurs June 17, Neumo's, 8 pm, $8 (all ages, bar with ID).
Hella are a brain-shaking, incredibly fast-paced instrumental band made up of nothing more than a drummer and a guitar player. Together they make some of the most cacophonous melodies out of nearly total dissonance. It shouldn't add up, but the Sacramento-based twosome managed to do it on their 2002 debut, Hold Your Horse Is, a stunning exercise in what could only be called symphonic discordance. (No mean feat given it was the product of just those two members, guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill.)
Hella has returned with a new album called The Devil Isn't Red, recorded live without the addition of a single overdub. And the sound is absolutely huge.
"It goes pretty easy," says Seim of playing with Hill. He attributes the members' familiarity with each other's styles to be a contributing factor when it comes to writing songs that, at first listen, give the feeling that the compositions are purposely made to sound off-kilter: The guitarist creates a barrage of chaos and the drummer sounds like he's playing to another tune entirely. Says Seim, "Usually I write the songs at a much slower tempo and each instrument goes through that same creative process as it is composed, except for the small, improvisational parts." So what about all that cacophony and discord? "It takes more than one listen to get into the album," he explains, "and the more you understand what's going on, [the more] the stuff that sounds off-kilter will start to make sense after a while."
The one-minute song "Big Time and the Kid" is the perfect example of what Seim is talking about. Though it's short, the guitar and drums seem to be going in opposite directions, but really, that's what eventually becomes the melody. "The Mother Could Be You" features even more opposing elements until a tempo change provides the glue that joins together splintered structures. Like Seim says, all it takes is a good listening session to get it. But since Hella have been on the road for months, expect to hear even more peculiarities when they come to town.