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Hella - Church Gone Wild / Chirpin' Hard

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Artist: Hella

Album: Church Gone Wild / Chirpin' Hard

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Review date: Apr. 20, 2005

Church Gone Wild / Chirpin’ Hard could be a watershed release for the Sacramento duo Hella. The packaging of disparate solo material as one release isn’t a new idea (see, obviously, Outkast) but this division of personalities leads Hella into lands unknown. The album has both the potential to serve as Hella’s own little Sgt. Pepper, an explosion of creativity taken to new heights by a broadening of the band’s horizons, or, just as likely, their Edsel, an oddity forgotten by most and loved by few. Not surprisingly, it falls somewhere between the two. It’s rather cumbersome to think of Church Gone Wild / Chirpin’ Hard as a single album. Neither Spencer Seim nor Zach Hill appear on each other’s offerings, and the two discs offer distinctly different looks inside the minds (and hands) behind Hella.

Church Gone Wild doesn’t completely forgo Zach Hill's thunderous drumming, but those expecting (and perhaps hoping for) Hill’s half of this release to be an onslaught of percussive artillery will be surprised. The arching, darkly-hued psychedelics of “I’m Quitting the Cult: Movement 2” sets the tone well for the hour-long piece, sliced into movements for ease of navigation. Hill’s compositions tend to be rather crowded, busy pop songs, heavy with effects and wildly intersecting musical lines. A sense of claustrophobia hovers, but it's offset by the heft of Hill’s more direct, repetitive segments. Often led by his altered and haunting vocals, these rock mantras cut through the rest of Church Gone Wild’s swarm to create many of the album’s most memorable moments. “Imaginary Friends: Movement 4,” and it’s eerie chorus proves that Hill is most lethal when he keeps things simple. The clattering sections of the disc isn’t entirely unwanted; the more tumultuous the music, the more athletic Hill becomes, and Zach Hill at his zenith is rarely disappointing.

The driving momentum of Spencer Seim’s Chirpin’ Hard is at odds with much of Hill’s work, as Seim opts for a more straightforward approach. His largely instrumental compositions rely more on explicitly stated rhythms, with more easily digested structures. The obscured melodic sense that Seim brings to Hella is more fully exposed here, with synthesizers leading as often as guitar - a nod, perhaps, to the influence of The Advantage, Seim's Nintendo cover band. The tracks featured here are insistent head-bobbers and foot-tappers, though after Hill’s broken baroque, Seim’s music often feels too safe, and, while more immediately pleasing to the ear, less fulfilling after repeated listens.

Church Gone Wild / Chirpin’ Hard isn’t solely some musical sideshow, but it’ll most likely never be considered one of Hella’s best works in retrospect. Hill’s disc, especially, contains large chunks of something that deserves further exploration, and wouldn’t be utterly atypical in Hella’s larger body of work. But, aside from Church Gone Wild’s best moments, there’s not much material here that can compare with the intelligence and distinctiveness of the duo’s best work. Church Gone Wild and Chirpin’ Hard are interesting detours, but, hopefully, not signs of what’s to come.

By Adam Strohm

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