Prodigious workaholic drummer with Hella, Zach Hill has produced his first solo album Astrological Straits. Renowned for his energetic and individualistic approach to drumming, Zach has recruited a number of friends to assist him with this new project, including Primus's Les Claypool, guitarist Marnie Stern, Team Sleep/Deftones' Chino Moreno, No Age's Randy Randall and Dean Spunt, !!!/LCD Soundsystem's Tyler Pope, The Flying Luttenbachers' Jonathan Hicshke, Satori/RX Bandits' Steve Borth, The Advantage's Robbie Moncrief and Hill's own Hella bandmates Carson McWhirter and Josh Hill. It's a formidable list of friends and kindred spirits that Hill is comfortable playing with and allowed him the confidence to give his guests artistic freedom within the constraints of Hill's own compositions for the album.
However, despite the guest list, it remains very much a Zach Hill album, a drummer's album, abounding with energy and replete with compositions that focus on staccato and percussive phrasing, irrespective of the instrument that is being used. the guitar and keyboards work is pretty slick and I also enjoyed the sax bursts on "Tick On". Whilst the compositional styles pay lip service to genres such as jazz ("Tick On"), funk ("Ummer"), it is difficult to call this anything other than a "rock" album with the focus very much either on the drumming or on urgent rhythms. The singing, too, rarely breaks into melodic phrasing, often adding to the rhythmical mix. The pace never really lets up, it's a constant feature throughout. It's an "in your face" album, one that you'll need plenty of energy to enjoy.
And will you enjoy it? The drumming is what makes this album, it is exceptional but it is unusual to find the drums dominating a soundscape to such an extent, even when it is a drummer's solo album, and it won't be to everyone's liking. Luckily for you, I am able to say whether you'll be amongst those who will think that Astrological Straits is the best thing since sliced bread. All you have to do is to answer the simple question below.
So, put yourself in this position and then answer the question. You go to see a live band and are really enjoying the show, which is about two-thirds of the way through, when the drummer launches into what is clearly going to be a 15 to 20 minute drum solo. Your reaction is: (a) "Fantastic!", you get really excited and start pounding away on your own imaginary drum-kit, totally absorbed in what the main man is doing on stage; or (b) "Oh, it's a drum solo..." and, disappointed, you take the opportunity to go for a quick comfort break.
Well, if your answer was (a) then go and buy this album now, double-quick. If (b) however, you're probably better off saving your pennies.
Incidentally, if you do rush off and buy it then you will be treated to a second disc which I have not had the pleasure of listening to. On the commercial package, Zach includes a second disc called "Necromancer" which, so the promotional material says, finds Zach, narrator Marnie Stern and Brooklyn-based pianist Marco Benevento shifting from Astrological Straits's more upbeat, rock-oriented feel to an expressionistic Cecil Taylor/Tony Williams-style piano and percussion excursion.
1) Iambic Strays (5:17)
2) Toll Road (4:47)
3) Street People (1:59)
4) Dark Art (4:17)
5) Keep Calm and Carry On (5:53)
6) Hindsight is Nowhere (4:04)
7) Ummer (2:01)
8) Stoic Logic (3:11)
9) Uhuru (8:49)
10) Momentum (4:20)
11) Unseen Forces (3:15)
12) Tick On (3:10)
13) Astrological Straits (8:57)