Reviews Zach Hill Astrological Straits

Zach Hill

Astrological Straits

Zach Hill is quite the accomplished drummer. Hill co-founded the genre-bending duo (now a fivesome) Hella with Spencer Seim. In addition, Hill has found time to collaborate with a plethora of talented individuals on multiple projects: Team Sleep with Chino Moreno, Goon Moon with Chris Goss, Omar Rodriquez-Lopez, Mike Patton, and many others. Needless to say, Hill is a known talent. But, for the first time, Hill has ventured out to take the songwriting lead with his debut solo offering, Astrological Straits.

While it is taking the easy way out to compare this album to Hill’s work with Hella, it’s the most obvious comparison to make, so I’m doing it. Musically, Astrological Straits shares a lot of similarities to the early Hella catalog. The frenzied drumming and wacky fills dominate the landscape of this effort. These are partnered with quick time-changes and tweaked guitar sounds, synths, and various effects. The jazz-infused drumming of Hill recalls that of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Chris Pennie, but even more disjointed. Hill has then added in a variety of guitar noodling, synth effects, and other wacky gadgets to create a futuristic sound. Take “Street People,” for example, which is comparable to Battles’ Mirrored.

Then, you have those songs that are just tad on the “normal” side. The latter half of “Dark Arts” brings to mind Queens of the Stone Age-esque jams. “Tick On” is an enjoyable mixture of jazz, piano rock, and of course Hill’s frenzied drumwork - like Miles Davis on acid. And while there are those songs that venture away from the experimental nature, it is these that do occupy the bulk of the album. “Hindsight is Nowhere” is a weird mixture of choir-sung verses, jittery guitars, and synthesized lasers. “Uhuru” is a nearly nine-minute solo affair for Hill as he demonstrates his skills behind the kit as he’s flanked by random noises. The title-track closes the near hour-long affair out with a great display of Hill’s drumming abilities, then again, when is he not showcasing his skills?

Lyrically speaking Astrological Straits is a wash. The words that I can understand are usually just repetition of the title. Either that, or other nonsensical lines that are strung together and make little to no sense, much like The Mars Volta. Obviously these are secondary to the music though, which takes the bulk of the focus from the listener.

Visually, Astrological Straits is on par with the work handled for the many Hella releases. It’s maddened, schizophrenic, avant garde, and pop-art all balled up together - a perfect reflection of the music contained within.

Astrological Straits may seem like an odd adventure in noise rock. But for those familiar with the previous musical ventures of Hill, it really isn’t a far stretch from what he’s been doing for years. Overall, it’s a varied mix of styles, but still, any fan of what Hill has done before should enjoy what he’s put together here.

6.0 / 10Michael
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