Forward March 

With so many bands looking back, Hella and Outhud take

Probably the most tiresome of all music cliches is the widespread notion that all new music sucks. It's a sentiment as common within alternative/underground music circles as anywhere else: "No good music was made after [insert long-lost decade here], unless it sounds identical to [insert same decade here]." People who say things like this should do so into a tape recorder so they know how out-of-touch they sound.

Keep in mind that the same things were said 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and 10 years ago. New and exciting music is happening right now; the naysayers just don't like it, and that's a matter of personal taste, not hard facts.

With this in mind, Saturday's Hi-Tone lineup may come as a stroke-inducing shock to some Memphis music fans, as Hella and Outhudjoin forces to clean some clocks and get some backsides shaking.

The two-man Hella (guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill) make good with the duo lineup favored by noiseniks over the past several years (see also Lightning Bolt, Wolf Eyes, and the Pink and Brown). Of course, a duo communicates unlike any other artistic equation, and perhaps it's better in the noise-rock universe to love like brothers and fight like a married couple rather than make-nice like an extended dinner party.

Hella's current album --their fourth -- is the ambitious Church Gone Wild/Chirpin' Hard, a double-disc opus that is essentially two solo albums. Splitting Hella's sound between its two brains does wonders at adding some breathing room to what can be a dense, demanding listen. Seim and Hill each play every instrument on their solo discs, with Seim's music the more melodic. His compositions are like Nintendo themes played by some combination of Napalm Death, Devo, and the Residents. (It's prettier than it sounds, trust me.) Hill goes for the throat with a slightly more assaultive and improvisational style, complete with some absurdly complex drumming and full trick bag of unknown noises. One thing is for sure: Whether you shy away from more abrasive artists or not, you will want to see this pulled off live. (And Hella may be touring with an expanded lineup to make it happen.)

Even if that doesn't sound compelling, there are tourmates Outhud, whose sound matches Hella's like oil to water. Hailing from the Bay Area, Outhud have spent two albums and myriad singles transforming into the greatest (largely) electronic dance band in the world, their current Let Us Never Speak of It Again so layered and beautiful that it threatens more celebrated scene colleagues LCD Soundsystem with irrelevancy.

Unlike most dance-oriented rock bands, Outhud look forward eight times for every time they look back, but when they do delve into history, the most fertile pickings originate in the early-'80s New York post-disco/post-punk sound that created hushed legends of Liquid Liquid and ESG. "It's for You" appropriates the underlying beat of Danish duo Laid Back's 1983 electro hit "White Horse," and "How Long" (in the current running for greatest pop song of 2005) is like an ESG, Midnight Star, and St. Etienne blend that's far bigger than the sum of its parts.

In contrast to the duo approach of Hella, Outhud's more communal makeup mirrors its music: There are five people in the band, three men and two women (one of whom is the first-class vocalist). What Hella and Outhud do share is a healthy sense of humor. If the above-mentioned album titles aren't proof enough, Outhud boasts a song titled "2005: A Face Odyssey" and Hella let loose with "Brown Metal."

Though these bands plumb divergent musical directions, they should come together in the form of great live shows. And the best part of Outhud's set might not even happen on stage: This is a band that could even get a rock crowd dancing. n

Hella and Outhud at the Hi-Tone Café, on Sunday, April 17th

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