There are people who, to this day, are still trying to make sense of Hella’s There’s No 666 in Outer Space. There was no ease into its confounding, sinister veneer for either the band or its fans: Hella went from an elastic math-rock alternative to what sounded like the Mars Volta pressed to glue instilled with lock grooves galore and spun using a bad needle, which could have been a blessing or a curse depending on whether you were willing to parse through the suffocating guitar debris to locate its harebrained brilliance. This wasn’t another case of neo-prog ego-flexing, though-- vocalist Aaron Ross’s compelling, hypnotic melodies repeated into oblivion underneath the cluttered instrumentals.
Why the band reverted to a two-piece on last year’s Tripper may have been due to listeners’ discontent, but I’m willing to speculate that Beast of Both Worlds, the debut full-length from Ross and guitarist Spencer Seim, contains a handful of songs that could have been on a more refined follow-up had Hella remained a quintet. Ross’ songwriting in the duo depends less on the delirium of 666 than it does the unadorned folk of his solo material. Solos bridge the gap between both outings, employing both direct refrains and psych-informed experimentalism, all aided by producer Guy Massey, whose clients include Radiohead, Depeche Mode, and Spiritualized among others. Seim and Ross use the accommodations to their advantage, committing every possibility to tape.
The duo’s priorities are rearranged on Beast as Ross mans the guitar and Seim assumes his first drumming position since sBACH. Though not as maniacal as comrade Zach Hill, he puts just as much intricacy on display, namely in the frenetic hi-hat and snare interplay preceding the mounting hook of “Carpe Diem” as well as the tumbling tom rolls that permeate “Damsel Distressed”’s verses. Ross’s tapped leads on “Schooled Fools” are seized from Seim’s own tactics, but distributed in terse fits so as to punctuate the narrative, “Sick of wasting all our time for you/ Pointing fingers get the knife/ They get themselves removed.”
If Solos have put more forethought into anything other than their sophisticated instrumentality, it’d be their choruses, which are uniformly infectious and massive, nearly to a fault on the lighter-readying “Crackin’ the Modern Age”, but Ross and Seim know their limits well enough to completely obliterate structure for slow-burner “The Darwin Blues”, which trudges along a 5/4 pattern before it’s swept away in an overdriven sandstorm. Solos exercise grandiosity to an effect just as successful as Hella’s in 2006. Rather than seeking out the exploratory, Beast simply churns out excellent anthems. Each of which is ostensibly prog-ambitious, but intensive observation will lead one to adhesive melodicism, guileless and upright.
[Buy Beast of Both Worlds from Joyful Noise Recordings]