The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Health – ‘Death Magic’ (Loma Vista)

Front cover of 'Death Magic'

Front cover of ‘Death Magic’

by Ed Biggs

Los Angeles’ electronic noise-pop outfit Health have experienced commercial success that they almost certainly couldn’t have anticipated over the last few years. Though they haven’t released a proper studio album since 2009’s Get Color, their 2012 soundtrack for Rockstar Games’ blockbuster shooter Max Payne 3 has sold in excess of four million copies. Teaming up with in-demand producer The Haxan Cloak for their first regular release in six years, the quartet are seeking to apply their dark, lustrous brand of electro-rock in the regular pop world with Death Magic, and the results are almost entirely positive and surprisingly tuneful.

Lead singer Jacob Duzsik has been extolling the virtues of Depeche Mode and Rihanna in interviews, and their influence comes across in the melodic undertow that gently drives the saw-toothed guitars and abrasive, industrial electronics of first proper track ‘Stonefist’. “Love’s not in our hearts / we both know” he sings in his androgynous, possessed falsetto, demonstrating a diary-like, shorthand style that suits the witchy music extremely well. ‘Men Today’ is a hypnotic onslaught of tribal drums, inspired by that soundtrack work, while first single ‘New Coke’ is awash with synthetic walls of noise built on a foundation of booming post-dubstep. So far, so Health. The blaring synths that stab through the cloak of darkness on closer ‘Drugs Exist’ demonstrate to fans that this is definitely the work of the same group, but where this third album triumphs is in its new-found sense of accessibility.

It’s nowhere near being any kind of ‘new pop direction’, but on Death Magic there is definitely a lightness to Health that wasn’t there before. The brief interlude ‘Salvia’ recalls their beautiful 2007 Crystal Castles collaboration ‘Crimewave’ with its sighing, spectral vocals and juddering beats. The strident, regular beat of ‘Life’ is the poppiest thing they’ve ever done, with shafts of light piercing the darkness to make the latter more pronounced, and even the mid ‘80s, primetime Cure would have been proud of it. This is closely followed by the sparkling ‘L.A. Looks’, a gorgeous slice of gothic pop that sees positivity and determination shine through where moodiness once reigned (“I want to try again”). ‘Flesh World (UK)’ comes on for all the world like an EDM track, but displays some deeply unnerving lyrics – “do all the drugs / but don’t hurt the ones you love”.

On the surface, it might sound like a lot of other things, but after a couple of listens Death Magic has a great deal of variety and a lasting emotional resonance. It’s a much more complete musical statement than anything they’ve managed in the past, and it seems as if the success of Max Payne 3 has encouraged them to be more confident in exploring that part of themselves. It was always there in Duzsik and co. but buried far below their attack-minded electronics – now, the heart is working in conjunction with their brain, and it’s a strikingly emotional experience. (8/10)

Listen to Death Magic here!

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