Even in the anything goes and generally—how shall I put it?—not so normal mind of the average tattoo artist, the face tat is hardcore. Anything else can be easily obscured, covered up, forgotten. But the face tat is unavoidable and all consuming as it relates to one’s public identity. With regards to the outside world, everything else—fashion, wealth, occupation—is out the window. The face tat defines you.
But looked at from another another angle, it can also be incredibly liberating and empowering. It’s your brand, your identifying marker. It’s your means of standing out and differentiating yourself from the faceless masses. In a world that demands conformism and a culture that craves homogeneity, the face tat is like a giant middle finger to societal values and norms. It says that you will be you; everyone else can get fucked.
For Zach Hill, endlessly inventive drummer and most prolific of collaborators, it’s this free-wheeling spirit of oddball uniqueness and individuality that drives his sophomore effort called (surprise!) Face Tat. And while you’ll no doubt read much about the plethora of guests on this record—Devendra Banhart, Guillermo Scott Herren (Prefuse 73) and members of No Age, Hella, and Deerhoof all make appearances—as well as the usual critical gushing for Hill’s relentless, ferocious, fleet-footed drumming—he’s once again the many-tentacled monster we’ve all come to know and love—what makes this album so impressive and, frankly, mind-blowing, is its utter disregard for convention, its willingness to thumb its nose at just about every tenet of traditional songwriting. To its core, this album crushes expectations; it disrupts, deconstructs, and/or destroys any notion of what pop or rock music is and should be.
All of this is not to say that Face Tat lacks structure or even hooks. One listen to the off-kilter tropical funk of opening salvo, “Memo to the Man,” the bouncy, fuzzed-out synth-pop of “The Primitives Talk,” or the frantic punk freak-out that is “The Sacto Smile” and you’ll know that’s not the case. The music may be chaotic, it may be manic, but there are some resplendent melodies in there and Hill’s woven tapestries of sound have a definitive focus. It’s a big leap from the exhausting, convoluted mess of beats and incomprehensible noise that formed much of his solo debut, Astrological Straits. Hill has always been a musical gambler willing to sacrifice subtlety and restraint in pursuit of sounds that are altogether foreign and unique. In the past this let it fly attitude has proven detrimental; here his instincts are much more refined.
Coated in a shiny pop veneer, Face Tat is bright, glistening, metallic. It’s also big and booming (almost outlandishly so), filled to the brim with a spastic barrage of beats that leave you wondering whether to nod your head in unison or shake it in amazement. Musically, Hill leaves few touchstones unturned. With his Bygones partner in crime and Tera Melos guitarist, Nick Reinhart, pouring in some right smart guitar work, Hill injects the proceedings with scraps of punk, prog and funk, as well as looping bits of hardcore, metal and hip hop. For the average listener, you’ll find nothing small, modest or straightforward about this record. The music here is bold and effusive, and, yet, still difficult and, at times, disorienting. The songs have gotten substantially better… I didn’t mention anything about them getting any easier.
by Moe Castro
Memo to the Man by Zach Hill is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) License.