Hella's ability to alter its listeners' frontal lobes relies on the manic approach of its members. Throughout Hold Your Horse Is, guitarist Spencer Seim tears at his strings relentlessly, as though a moment's pause might have dire consequences. His playing imparts a feeling of scattered urgency, like the last five minutes of packing when you're already late for your flight. In song after song, he meticulously repeats note-heavy, dissonant passages followed by complicated, rapid-fire strumming. Meanwhile, drummer Zach Hill plays as though he has six arms. Rarely wasting his time on something as boring as a backbeat, he pummels his kit as if he were re-creating a drum solo by the Who's Keith Moon -- for 34 straight minutes.
Aside from a bleeping Casio introduction, guitar and drums make up the full extent of the instrumentation. That's OK, though, because between the constant stops and starts and the furious noodling, there's little room for either bass or vocals. The end result is a bit exhausting, similar to watching five tennis games being played on the same court at once.
Fortunately, Hold isn't just the work of a pair of Ritalin-deprived noise freaks. There is method in Hella's madness, even if it's applied with the subtlety of a Ford Explorer driving through a day-care center. Beyond ably constructing a wall of noise, the group also knows when to pull a few bricks loose, letting melodic light shine through the gaps. For example, toward the end of "Been a Long Time Cousin," Hella breaks the tension with a soaring, straightforward guitar melody that almost verges on power pop. The pair also shows off a sense of humor, tossing a two-second handclap break into the middle of the otherwise ungroovy "Republic of Rough and Ready."
Will Hella change the way you listen to music forever? Probably not, if you're familiar with the records of indie-noise pioneers like Don Caballero and U.S. Maple or, to a certain extent, rock experimentalists like Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. But the casual listener with a short attention span and an appetite for skronky noise should find Hold Your Horse Is satisfying, if not hella transcendent.