Lately, HEALTH’s most notable defining feature has been their undeniable ability to pull in star power, so much so that they’re already on a second volume of their DISCO4 project only about 18th months after the first. This is the sort of side venture that will impress on concept alone, in collaborations with acts at basically every stratum of industrial, left-of-centre music, spanning online favourites like Backxwash and Black Dresses’ Ada Rook, to genuine iconic names like Lamb Of God and Nine Inch Nails. For what effectively spun off from their remix albums, HEALTH have really come into their own musical curators for these works, which might arguably be the greatest compliment that can be paid to them. It’s not exclusive to this album—it was very prevalent on the previous part, too—but you get the impression that HEALTH are more along for the ride, where neither they nor their collaborators feel as creatively empowered as they could be. There’s some striking, evocative atmosphere built in the production, but it becomes an open question of who synergises best with it that defines where a piecemeal-by-design album like this goes. Poppy sounds great against the booms and clatters that colour the opener Dead Flowers, and the mechanical guitars and crunches of percussion on Murder Death Kill pair excellently with Ada Rook’s larynx-destroying shrieks and make a seamless flip into blown-out trap for PlayThatBoiZay to come in. Moreover, you’d be hard-pressed to say anyone sounds particularly bad here (maybe with the exception of Ekkstacy on Still Breathing which is minimalist and washed-out to the point of nonexistence), but seldom will …PART II provide something to truly leap off the page. Even in reliable contributions from Nine Inch Nails and Lamb Of God, they’re effectively sticking in their lane as far as what they deliver is concerned, only strung together by Jake Duzsik’s dream-pop vocals which, honestly, are among the least impactful feature offered.
But maybe that’s being more critical than an album like this implores. From the perspective of a stacked cast brought together to wallow in the bleakness of modern life, assembled by a band whose soundscapes can convey that exact notion to a fault, this is pretty solid for what it’s offering. HEALTH clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to fitting the pieces together—they actually get good work out of The Neighbourhood, for crying out loud—and they can sidestep some pretty major pitfalls because of it. The reliance on huge, lumbering percussion can sometimes lock a song in place, but it captures a darkness and oppressiveness that they lean into really well; it’s a similar case with the synthwave pivots on The Joy Of Sect and Excess. That’s the tone pretty much all of the album strives to hit, its most successful moments being where it elevates its guest stars the most clearly through it. The aforementioned contributions from Poppy, Ada Rook and PlayThatBoiZay are all there, as well as Backxwash who has such a commanding, rampaging presence across the quaking hell-bass of Gnostic Flesh/Mortal Hell (more so than Ho99o9 on the same track, actually). That also means that HEALTH themselves are clear second fiddles a lot of the time, even on their closer These Days 2021, the only song on here with no features, and isn’t bad but is a decidedly less immediate cut for it. That unevenness really is part and parcel with a project like this though, which is kept afloat more by the spectacle and names attached than a true delineation of quality, and that’s definitely true of …PART II. It constructs an atmosphere that’s engaging and well-constructed, but that you also have to be in a certain mood for, and pulls in an impressive rogues’ gallery that offer more in status than uniform quality. It’s still well worth a try though, if only because HEALTH’s vision for this is something that constantly shines through regardless of outcome.
For fans of: Cold Cave, Xiu Xiu, How To Destroy Angels
‘DISCO4 :: PART II’ by HEALTH is released on 8th March on Loma Vista Recordings / Concord Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall