Hella have spent the past decade of their career constantly morphing. They’ve been noise-rock pranksters, a prog-rocking quintet, and dabblers in the realm of synthesizers and 8-bit composition, depending on what year you decided to check in on them. They’ve built up a discography of formidable size and skill, blasting out songs featuring time signatures that seemingly haven’t been invented yet, and guitar riffs beamed in from worlds unknown. But what a cursory listen of Tripper quickly reveals is that Hella, now reverted to the original duo of guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill, has never put out an album that’s as flat-out fun to listen to as this one.
While the pair contribute equally to the Hella songwriting process, and as always display a superhuman level of musical chemistry with one another, it seems that Hill’s work on Marnie Stern’s self-titled album last year projects the largest influence over Tripper. On that album, Hill helped Stern achieve a near-perfect synthesis of eyeball-popping technicality and pure pop bliss. But while Stern’s album was a large step forward in terms of her accessibility, Tripper finds Hella just as gleefully noisy and destructive as ever. There’s just a considerably larger amount of catchy nuggets crammed in among the chaos. In addition to getting back to the sounds and feels that presumably brought them together in the first place, Tripper is at its core an album about the pure joy of discovery and creation. Each of the ten songs here was recorded nearly immediately after being written, capturing them in their most raw, spontaneous form.
After a quick palate cleansing warm-up, opening track “Headless” launches into its central, ascending guitar part, which sets the tone of Hella as a two-piece sounding as huge as the quintet they briefly were. It’s backed by blastbeats from Hill that burst into tumbling drum fills- the audio equivalent of one of those time-lapse nature videos that shows a flower quickly sprouting out of the ground and blooming. It’s status as one of the album’s catchiest moments makes its placement as the first track brilliant, as it prepares listeners for the sheer brutality of “Self Checkout,” a track that grinds its way through a maze of demented surf riffs from Seim and air-tight performances from Hill. “Yubacore” contains one of the most pure pop moments of Tripper‘s running time in the form of a prickly lead part from Seim that is equal parts triumphant and introspective. The relative calm of “Furthest,” with its central part that could credibly be described as slightly twangy, spirals into late album highlight “Psycho Bro” which has the duo heading in a slightly sludgy direction, punctuated by lassoing riffs from Seim. Each of the tracks have a common thread linking them, but are more than capable of standing without the support of the entire album.
Hella are a band reinvigorated on Tripper, realizing and embracing with all of their arms (a run through any of the tracks here definitely makes it sounds like they each have more than two) the sounds that absolutely work best for them while showcasing their growth as songwriters and the experiences they’ve picked up from their myriad side projects. They’ve by no means gone pop, but they have emerged with their most human album to date, completely devoid of the occasionally comical indulgences of their past, or the iffy Mars Volta posturing of their last full-length, 2007’s There’s No 666 In Outer Space. The fade out at the end of final track “Osaka” is less the end of the album, and more a statement that Hella’s second wind might just be beginning.