Over its five-year existence, Sacramento, California-based Hella has proven impossibly prolific, averaging one full-length a year if you include the Concentration Face/Homeboy combination CD/DVD the duo squeezed out last November, mere months after the Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard double platter. Even if the band’s songs are fundamentally incomprehensible, half-improvised, balls-to-the-wall instrumental avant math-rock freak-outs that presumably require little actual writing, releasing so much product in so short a span while also touring must nevertheless wear the members the fuck out. Which may be why 2006 yielded only a single measly Hella release, the Acoustic EP, comprising six relatively by-the-books unplugged rethinkings of previously released cuts as performed by the band’s founding lineup, Spencer Seim (guitar) and Zach Hill (drums), which has long since been augmented by a rotating cast of up to three others (currently Josh Hill, Aaron Ross and Carson Mcwhirter, but don’t hold your breath).
What you get here is a gross-out cover photo of a melting chocolate bunny and three songs from Hold Your Horse Is (2002) and three from The Devil Isn’t Red (2004), all played acoustically but otherwise in the usual Hella manner. By that I mean played in funny fast film time, guitar and drums crashing and careening chaotically crazily every which way like Don Cabellero on speed, which really is saying something. It’s pretty much the sound of abrasion, softened only some by the lack of electricity. “Biblical Violence” throbs like an artery, and “Women of the ’90s” like something faster. (I don’t know; what throbs quickly?) But “1-800-Ghost Dance” benefits most from the treatment, coming off almost soft and vulnerable, albeit fleetingly.
Call it impressive if not as defiantly in-yo-face as the Hella faithful have come to expect (all others are, of course, advised to keep a safe distance) — not a step back but not the usual blast forward. Either the band members are tired or they’re conserving energy, both theirs and ours, setting us up for something mind-blowing on the scale of Apollo 11 or Prince’s sprawling if ultimately disappointing triple-disc Emancipation. Though the band members don’t offer compelling evidence to the contrary on Acoustic, I refuse to believe they’re running out of ideas.