HEALTH manages its guest stars with dexterity on ‘Disco4 :: Part I’

Disco 4
Loma Vista Recordings/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

What does collaboration look like in this day and age? For noise rock group HEALTH, it looks like Disco4 :: Part I. The band’s newest album is a churning and hammering collection of collaborations with an assortment of bands from all over the music industry. Despite this diversity — or perhaps because of it — the album is a coherent and consistent piece, loaded with threatening instrumentation and eldritch electronic production.

HEALTH boasts a wide range of talent on Disco4 :: Part I. From industrial hip-hop artist JPEGMAFIA to bedroom rock star Soccer Mommy, the roster of artists featured on the album bursts with variety. The strength of the album is thanks in no small part to these artists, who excel at adapting and transforming HEALTH’s signature, dirty sounds in innovative but familiar ways.

On “Body/Prison,” Perturbator’s thudding synthwave beats punch through HEALTH’s screeching and groaning noise, effortlessly synthesizing the two styles together. The greatest successes on Disco4 :: Part I come in cases like these, when the collaborator’s instrumental or vocal tracks compliment HEALTH’s grungy rhythm.

Full of Hell frontman Dylan Walker’s grindcore vocals on “Full of Health” are exactly the kind of sinister and threatening addition HEALTH is pursuing with this record. While Jake Duzsik, HEALTH’s lead singer, often delivers heavy but diaphanous vocals, Walker, among others on the album, brings a grittier, louder energy. These artists are like lightning rods, drawing from whatever energy they can muster to electrify and animate the record on which they appear.

The album’s songs are so seamlessly woven together that the transitions between them are hardly ever noticeable. Often, it isn’t until the arrival of a new artist that the advent of a new song becomes apparent. Better yet, the songs on Disco4 :: Part I still stand alone when removed from the whole. Certainly, they are catered to a particular mood and atmosphere, but they can easily be shuffled and rearranged while still maintaining the core flow and appeal of the album.

Experimental and noise artists are among HEALTH’s more predictable collaborators. “Hard To Be a God,” created alongside experimental producer NOLIFE, is an agitated and heaving storm that sounds like Dante’s last steps into his Inferno.

However, a number of songs feature artists whose typical work seems to fall outside of the scope of HEALTH’s normal array of genres. The sugar-coated hyperpop of 100 gecs is twisted and tortured on “Power Fantasy,” a bizarrely fascinating synthesis of the two groups’ styles. Even more outside the box is “Mass Grave,” HEALTH’s collaboration with Soccer Mommy: One of the album’s slower songs, “Mass Grave” is a chemical waltz, a gnawing duet with echoing guitars and consistent, stabbing percussion.

JPEGMAFIA’s feature on “Hate You” is one of the more surprisingly characteristic performances on the album, as the ghostly and stripped production of the song typifies the kind of music the artist has become known for. Like many songs on the album, it defies clean standards of choruses and verses. The instrumentals wrap in on one another in a seemingly infinite stacking pattern, and the song eats through itself like an ouroboros. 

While some of the hip-hop featured on the album excels, as in the case of “Hate You,” it sometimes falters, too. Rapper Ghostemane’s guttural and creaking performance on “Judgement Night” may blend with HEALTH’s music, but there is somehow still a lack of grime to it. It is cleanliness put through a filter, rather than real, raw grunginess.

Only one song is exclusively HEALTH: “Cyberpunk,” the album’s first track. On it, Duzsik sings “Two of us not enough” and “Two of us is too much.” Such an introduction is eminently aware of the potential for both failure and success encompassed in a project such as Disco4 :: Part I. It banks not only on strong performances from its guests, but also on the efficacy with which these performances blend together and complement HEALTH’s overall sound. Fortunately for HEALTH, it manages to use these guests to thrive on savage decay, like a flock of vultures feasting on carrion as a collective, with synchronicity and cynicism.

Crew Bittner covers music. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @weakandrewwk.