“Hold Your Horse Is (Deluxe Reissue)” – Hella Album Review

Written by on October 9, 2023

Review by Avery Caico

Math rock is, for lack of a better word, a wild genre, and drummer Zach Hill and guitarist Spencer Seim’s duo-band Hella is by no means an exception. The band rose from the ashes of math-rock pioneer band Don Caballero, bringing a wildly energetic new take on the already avant-garde sound with their debut album, Hold Your Horse Is. The 2002 release captivated the scene and earned them extensive and justified recognition, a response re-incited with their recent 2023 reissue of the album. With a revitalized sound, Hold Your Horse Is (Deluxe Reissue) does nothing short of impress (again).

Despite comprising solely of two individuals, Hella simulates an audial fullness typically only achieved by a team of musicians. Their sound is mesmerizingly dense and berating in the best way, with Seim’s relentless kick drum sequences leaving you almost out of breath.

The first full-length track, “Biblical Violence,” perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album with its whip-fast riffs and unconventional structure, followed by the incomprehensibly precise performance that is “Been a Long Time Cousin.” How blatantly unpinpointable the flow is despite the performance being so meticulously calculated may also be the most ironic thing about this album

The third track, “Republic of Rough and Ready,” may be the best signifier of the album’s “middle finger” to conventionally digestible melodies. It’s a dance with dissonance, constantly keeping you on your toes with unexpected shifts in both the melody and pacing, as well as the overall sound itself. “City Folk Sitting, Sitting” shares a similarly atypical metric structure, ducking into what is almost rhythmically on time before quickly falling away from anything even remotely followable, then repeating again and again and again. Ceaselessly. For seven minutes. This pattern of tension and exuberant release keeps the listener enthralled, the battering snares and strums demanding every ounce of your attention.

A tone shift occurs after “1-800-GHOST-DANCE” into a track I’d like to personally highlight from the album, “Brown Metal.” While its sound is still a product of Hill and Seim’s indulgence in metric chaos, its flow sets itself apart from the others in the sense that, well, it has one. The timing stays relatively consistent, with the same set of notes looping furiously. The result is an intense, rallying track full of forward adrenaline that grants the listener a break from what could easily become an overstimulating amount of beratement, yet without sacrificing any of the energy. In other words, “Brown Metal” allows the listener to reorient themselves without disturbing the momentum of the album, and instead doubles as a build up to the reintroduction of the indecipherable tension-release pattern in “Cafeteria Bananas.”

Perhaps this is me being greedy, but the energy of the closing track “Better Get a Broom!” doesn’t quite measure up with that of the rest of the album. Consequently, I feel the track was an almost an anticlimactic finale to an otherwise exhilarating lineup, the album’s continuous push and pull of frenzied rhythm arguably deserving of a grand, explosive final release.

Hold Your Horse Is (Deluxe Reissue) is, paradoxically, an organizational masterpiece and a canon of spontaneity. It’s restless, it’s dizzying, it’s hypnotic. It both emulates and incites a heightened heart rate, and leaves the brain buzzing for more. Hella unites sense with the nonsensical with an amalgamation of sound that pushes the boundaries of the genre, upholding and solidifying their place amongst the pioneers of math rock.

Image from Amazon.com

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