Review: Health – Death Magic

Combining the melodic sensibilities of the new romantic 80s synthpop movement with a harsh, industrial edge and an underlying, unavoidable darkness, listening to the third album from LA’s noise rock standard-bearers Health is something akin to being at a cybergoth disco where everyone is raving to the beat whilst somehow maintaining a thoroughly dejected aura and making it impossible to tell if they’re enjoying themselves or not. Death Magic is consistently downbeat, and yet still very danceable and never too oppressive, despite the powerful electronics and often very prominent noise elements, with ‘L.A. Looks’ especially providing a strong, uptempo groove and infectious pulsating synth lead. ‘Courtship II’ announces its arrival with some unexpected intermittent blasts of processed, metal drumming, and although this is something of a surprise, on balance it actually fits perfectly into the heavy aesthetic of the album. Similarly, instrumental track ‘Salvia’ pummels the listener with a relentless, militant beat, before suddenly giving way and floating away into a soft atmospheric passage – a dark/light contrast mirrored in the following track and lead single, ‘New Coke’, where the lyrics ‘life is good’ precede a filthy synthetic bass drone which is anything but life-affirming. Comparisons can very easily be made to the recently split noisey electronic duo Crystal Castles (never more so than on ‘Dark Enough’), but with Alice Glass’ occasionally jarring shrieks replaced by universally smooth, textural singing and a general feel of having one foot in the charts of 30 years ago. The androgynous vocals of Health’s singer Jake Duzsik call to mind equally despondent bands like New Order, Pet Shop Boys and even Placebo, carrying over lyrics which subvert modern concepts of love without ever becoming the main focus of the songs. He speaks to his fellow disconsolate souls without coming across as forced as many ’emo’ acts peddling similar subject matter have in recent years; listening to Death Magic, it feels like his message is ‘We’re all going to die. I’m okay with that. Meh.’ However, the track ‘Life’ is a pop-laden curveball which dresses Health’s electro-noise up as a chord-based ballad, resulting in a slightly disturbing but ultimately still effective commercial ‘sad song’, which sounds a bit like a robot trying really hard to understand complex human emotions it wasn’t really supposed to have. Sadly, things drag towards the end of the album. The slower ‘Hurt Yourself’ never quite reaches the critical mass that the other tracks leave you expecting, and closer ‘Drugs Exist’ betrays its provocative title, feeling similarly directionless, despite an excellent, hip-hop infused drum beat which is far underused throughout. If you take these final tracks as a slightly softened comedown from the intensity of this huge album though, then the whole release makes sense as a full experience; an experience you’ll come back from at 6am not necessarily feeling any more positive about life than when you did when you went out, but knowing that you enjoyed sharing your inner darkness with likeminded others who see the same negativity in everything that you do, and wondering where all the glowsticks came from.

Richard Spencer

Rating: 4/5

For fans of: Crystal Castles, Joy Division, Chelsea Wolfe

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