Zach Hill’s Face Tat draws curious consideration from the outset and never lets up, sounding an awful lot like a face tattoo should. This is Hill’s second solo record, with his first being Astrological Straits.
I’ve actually had to work hard to avoid the work of Hill over the last couple of years. Besides his primary group, Hella, he’s been involved with a wide range of groups and artists including Marnie Stern, El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Team Sleep, and Goon Moon.
A self-taught drummer, Hill’s work begins and ends with his incredible footwork. Known for his punishing bass-drum attack and his use of trash cymbals, he goes several layers beyond merely providing the beat to a song. He pounds and presses his kit like it’s a fucking instrument, challenging the notion of traditional drumming with every layer.
Face Tat is no easy feat, though, and it takes an awful lot to get into. Finding a groove is a little like finding respect for science among the Mormons: it’s there, but it’s not what you think.
Even so, Hill does follow some rather obscure time signatures in the middle of the deafening samples and repetitive effects and there’s somewhat of a method to the madness. Guests like No Age and Devendra Banhart help release more shards of bedlam into the atmosphere, but this is Hill’s record and he’s the ringleader at the core of this circus of chaos.
“Memo to the Man” boots things off. It’s probably the most “accessible” piece on Face Tat and that’s saying a lot. It opens with a slew of samples and distorted vocals piled on top of each other. The echoing sample nearly gives way to a groove before Hill challenges it head-on with a flurry of activity. He stretches to the far reaches of his kit, grinding out patches of rhythm and sound.
The record doesn’t get any easier as it goes along. Tracks like “Ex-Ravers” destroy ear drums with repetitive samples, while others like “House of Hits” rock out with a flare of guitar that tries to keep up with the clatter from Hill’s kit.
To tell the truth, I’m not convinced I really like Face Tat all that much. At the same time, I can’t stop listening to it for all its puzzling, frenzied, messy glory. Hill hasn’t just tossed the kitchen sink on an album for shits and giggles, that much is clear, but the level to which this kind of thing can be traditionally “enjoyed” is certainly up for grabs. Maybe that’s the point.
Check out the suitably weird video for “The Sacto Smile” from Face Tat: