If you want to make heavy, intense music of any stripe, there's a balancing act when it comes to ferocity.
There's no ceiling nor vanishing point for how wild and crazy your creations can get; there's no gold standard for "heaviest music." HEALTH understand that's not even a goal worth pursuing — and that creating something truly unsettling might mean embracing gentility — even pop instincts.
As their bassist, John Famiglietti, once pointed out, HEALTH's dictum is to create "relevant music that sounds new" — plain and simple. And in a statement from the band, they declared they wanted their vocals to "have an even, unaffected feel. A softness, like a Zombies melody, or even a Gregorian chant.
"We aren't just interested in being a noisy screaming band," they continued, and that bears out across their core discography, as well as their DISCO remix series. And the Angelenos' new album, RAT WARS, marks another step in their captivating evolution.
Described in press materials as "The Downward Spiral for people with at least two monitors and a vitamin D deficiency," songs like "DEMIGODS," "HATEFUL" and "SICKO" feel more full-blooded than ever — and this was an act that seemed to come out of the gate fully formed.
Here's a quick look at five HEALTH songs to know — focusing on the core catalog, and leaving aside the (very rewarding) DISCO series, as that's a can of worms deserving of its own article.
"Crimewave" (HEALTH, 2007)
Back on the cusp of the Obama years, HEALTH got wind in the sails via a Crystal Castles remix of their song "Crimewave," from their self-titled debut.
As such, that defunct duo (as to why they disbanded, you can Google it) played an critical role in HEALTH's rise — but Castles or no Castles, HEALTH remains a rewarding, thrillingly alien listen 15 years later.
And along with other key tracks like "Triceratops," "Crimewave" easily passes muster as a calling-card HEALTH track; you have pulverizing rhythms, an eerily docile vocal, and the threat of the whole enterprise detonating before your ears.
"Nice Girls" (GET COLOR, 2009)
A cemented HEALTH's second album, GET COLOR, developed on their earlier ideas masterfully — the songs felt more like songs this time around. Plus, a splash of snake venom in the production rendered their bite even more debilitating.
Highlights are all over the place, from "Die Slow" to "Death+" and beyond, but "Nice Girls" might be the centerpiece.
My Bloody Valentine is over-cited when it comes to swirling, abstracted music, but here, the comparison fits: it's like Kevin Shields with a serrated edge, commensurately tranquil and destabilizing.
"Stonefist" (DEATH MAGIC, 2015)
DEATH MAGIC leaned heavier into pure dance than HEALTH had previously; by selecting that tool in their toolbox, they honed their range of influences and moods into a fine point.
Where other HEALTH songs might butter you up and then deliver the K.O., DEATH MAGIC opts to grind you into dust like a diesel engine; the atmospheric yet unsparing "Stonefist" is Exhibit A for this approach
Founding member Jupiter Keyes left after DEATH MAGIC, but the crew soldiered on as a three-piece.
"No God in Thunderdome" (Grand Theft Auto Online: Arena War OST, 2019)
Despite not appearing on a proper HEALTH album, but in a "Grand Theft Auto" game, "No God in Thunderdome" threatens to be their time-capsule song.
As with their other career highlights, the track thrives on simplicities layered on simplicities until they form an entirely new beast; their blend between warped pop and outré everything is perfectly proportional here.
"Feel Nothing" (VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, 2019)
As HEALTH have continued their creative ascent, their embrace of pop has only swelled.
And "Feel Nothing," from their first post-Keyes album VOL 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, shows that tiptoeing up to that precipice doesn't compromise their essential chaos and aural extremism.
Not that it's a linear path to alternate-universe airwaves — RAT WARS brings the darkness and heaviness from entirely new directions. But "Feel Nothing" illuminates a path they could embark on if they wanted.
But as always, it's not that simple; with this long-running act, you'll get jostled to and fro on the journey, but the destination is more than worth it. What might that be in the long run? HEALTH only knows.
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