It's hard not to think HEALTH is more mechanized than Kraftwerk ever could have dreamed. The Los Angeles quartet teethed itself on the abrasive thrash of New York noise rock bands but committed to harmonic balance with trademark melodic synth licks and singer Jake Duzsik's distant, unaffected voice. With a "no ride cymbal" policy, and by corking their mics through guitar pedals, HEALTH displays some of the most interesting percussion this side of Zach Hill.
The band's warped approach earns it labels like "industrial disco," almost as if synthpop group Pet Shop Boys met doom metal legends Earth — but HEALTH's unique mixture of light and dark tones is not so simple. Death Magic, the band's recent third album and first in six years, expands the dance-floor grooves without sacrificing any of the relentless, asymmetrical rhythm inherent in 2009's Get Color.
We caught up with John Famiglietti, HEALTH's bassist and sometimes music video director over VoIP as the band drove to Bristol. The group often is on the road, and the members have met a lot of interesting friends along the way. When Crystal Castles remixed HEALTH's single "Crimewave," it brought the group mainstream notoriety, and Famiglietti says they are good friends with Purity Ring, whose "Begin Again" was remixed by HEALTH.
The band also is in with the Abso Lutely crowd, having had Eric Wareheim direct the blood-splattered video for "We Are Water" and guest-appearing on The Eric Andre Show performing a version of "Iron Chef from Hell."
For Death Magic, HEALTH tapped Kanye West producer Andrew Dawson, noted for his work on Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Famiglietti also says they chose a hip-hop producer instead of a rock or metal producer because of the specific tones HEALTH was trying to find.
"A lot of times, rock producers or guys who make good music like that, the best work they've done was a long time ago," Famiglietti says. "So a lot of things that we're trying to do are kind of new and weird. Also, for us, it kind of tickled us to work with a really good producer that didn't know the same touchstones where we were coming from. Like, he didn't know who Animal Collective was, you know?"
Part of working with Dawson comes from the band's admiration for corporate bubblegum pop — HEALTH's members are outspoken fans of Rihanna, Katy Perry, and the like. Speaking to Pitchfork, HEALTH guitarist Jupiter Keyes said, "There's this arms race of how pop music is written these days, and it's really interesting to get deep with that kind of stuff. You can't help the fact that these people are all working together to make really gratifying shit."
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Famiglietti echoes the sentiment: "It's a good product, man! . . .We're not, like, thumbing our nose up and shit."
While Death Magic's first single, "New Coke," brings to mind the flood of research chemicals being passed off as blow these days, Famiglietti says the song is more a reference to the infamous Coca-Cola marketing failure in the mid-'80s.
"We've put weird branded things sometimes in song titles," Famiglietti explains. "Like 'L.A. Looks,' that [song title] is a hair gel."
Fans of HEALTH's Disco remix series can perhaps expect a third installment, but not anytime soon. As Famiglietti says, "It's not going so hot . . . If we get a bunch more good remixes . . . we're going to do it, but if we don't and they suck or we only have like three, then we're not going to do [Disco 3]."