Hailing from Sacramento, California, Hella — composed of Spencer Seim on guitar and funny business and Zach Hill on ludicrous-speed drums — think about songs in ways that you don’t. The duo has been eschewing conventional genres (and instrumentation, for that matter), for a couple years now, with a solid release history (a couple EPs and a full-length) and some high-profile tours (most notably the sonically challenging "Oops, the Tour" package that sent them out to terrorize the country with the Locust, Arab on Radar, Lightning Bolt and some other bands that bang on stuff loudly).
Total Bugs is yet another dose of awesome sauce from these dudes. The record brings together some previously disparate elements in Hella’s repertoire: the guitar is now teamed up with, and usually dominated by, intricate, videogame-like programming. The resulting sound is a touch smoother, but doesn’t lose an ounce of their trademark spastic bounce. The interplay between Seim’s manic guitar and electronics results in some surprisingly tangible melodies at times, and Hill is even kind enough to provide a dance-y back-beat here and there. It would be a solid contribution to the deejay’s rotation at the annual Robot High prom, for sure. These seven songs clock in at just less than twenty minutes, but the boys were kind enough to include some must-see live footage at the end to round out the EP nicely.
But here’s the deal: I wrote that as I was listening to this at my computer, all ready to type a review, psyched on the record and so on. I had to run out to class, so I grabbed it and threw it in my Discman (yeah yeah, I’m archaic, but as long as I’m paying $1.94 at for a fucking tomato at Captain Rip-off’s corner store, I don’t foresee an iPod anytime in the near future, you fuck). I got through like three songs before I wanted to punch myself in the dick. That slight recontextualization — from review desk to real life — ruined the record for me.
I mean, it still is all those awesome things I just said about it. But honestly, I can’t really imagine ever listening to it. I just can’t foresee any circumstances during which something like that gets listened to. And actually, as a matter of fact, I call bullshit on a lot of doods right now. There’s totally an "Emperor with No Clothes On" element to this kind of stuff. Yeah, I’m sure you tell your friends how unbelievable it is (I did too), but when you are sitting home alone, I guarantee you’re not touching this. In fact, I’ll bet next month’s tomato money that you’re pulling out the entire Jodeci back catalogue before you even think about rocking out to jams like these while you’re surfing the Nerd or something.
And yes, I’m sure there are exceptions to this, and there are folks who are probably much smarter than I am and can translate their sheer appreciation for Hella’s musical prowess into actual enjoyment, but it’s really not working out for me. Certainly, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I’m relatively certain Hella didn’t sit around at the studio going "Fuck, you’re right dood. That sounds really cool, but Ryan Duffy is totally not gonna be able to get down with these jams." Maybe it’s a musical IQ test and I’m failing horribly, but by the time I got to school that day Total Bugs was back in my bag, I had that godawful song about Stacey’s mom on repeat, and I was feeling good.