Octopus-armed Sacramento sticksman Zach Hill has long since disproved common misconceptions over likely merits of a drummer's extracurricular musical projects, successfully collaborating with members of rock luminaries The Mars Volta, Deftones and Marilyn Manson. But 2008 solo debut Astrological Straits arrived as a daunting two-disc leviathan that never quite translated raw talent into absorbable material. Follow-up Face Tat, however, paints a much fuller picture of his rainbow vision.
Loosely following a high concept catalysed by statistical claims that people with facial tattoos are more likely to commit suicide than those without, such a themed focus immediately tames the somewhat abstract nature that characterised his first album. It wouldn't be a huge leap to suggest that Hill has taken condensed weird-fi sensibilities experienced while behind the kit on tour with Wavves to heart. Or perhaps he just realised tiny concessions to palatability are required to infiltrate the wider world.
Either way, Memo to the Man is a timely opening blast that confirms Hill is approaching perfecting his solo art. Detached vocals swirl around a real humdinger pitched somewhere between Battles' rhythmic rock and psychedelic hip hoppers Subtle's otherworldly charms, bolstered by extra percussive power from Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier.
By contrast, The Sacto Smile sees No Age – aka Dean Spunt and Randy Randall – weigh in with a beefed up no-fi version of their fuzzy day job, a two-minute nuclear explosion rippling beneath walls of static. Minus collaborators, meanwhile, Green Bricks dispenses almost club-ready bass burbles as pushed through an Amiga 500's soundcard. It's a pattern repeated on Jackers and Gross Sales – the latter produced by Prefuse 73 – both more Ninja Tune than rock tune.
Just as Hill's main vehicle, math-rock brain-breakers Hella, have often overshot compelling experimentation into acquired taste territory, Face Tat doesn't always know when to temper its boundless exploration. Burner in the Video, for one, approximates a badly-recorded/rejected Super Furry Animals remix. But for the most part, Hill's stubborn sonic bravery earns margin for a handful of bum notes, leaving Face Tat among the most rewardingly challenging listens of 2010.
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