Record Review - 2 March 19 2003

On the cover of Hold Your Horse Is, the debut album from Sacramento's Hella, there's a sticker that reads, "WARNING! Hella is not for everyone. This album will change the way you view music forever, so listen carefully."

Sure, labels want to speak well of their bands, but this is a little much.

That said, the young drums-and-guitar duo concocts a roaring instrumental cacophony of blistering pace that one must hear to believe. Spencer Seim's guitar work is phenomenal. He constructs beautifully spastic melodies while running up and down the fret-board at machine-gun pace, striking every note with a clarity many speedy guitarists lack. Drummer Zach Hill manages to steal the show with an epileptic drumming style that would seem completely random and chaotic if it didn't match Seim's riffs so perfectly. Jumping from off-tempo jazz breaks to death-metal-quality blast-beats to incredibly danceable handclap rhythms, Hill is the anarchic percussive force that drives the album.

But in math-rock, speed for speed's sake simply doesn't cut it, as there will always be a new band that manages to outplay its predecessors by employing stranger time signatures and faster instrumentation. What distinguishes Hella is its songwriting, which is strong and memorable. The opening seconds of "1-800-Ghost Dance" are terribly catchy, and "Republic of the Rough and Ready" is gloriously beautiful while still managing mind-bending turns sure to satisfy tech heads. Memorable moments like these are what make Hold Your Horse Is an album math-rock fans will want to keep around.

Hella plays the Echo Lounge Thurs., March 20.