Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World

From the freaky folks who brought you Deathconsciousnes back in 2008 comes The Unnatural World, a shorter, more concise album, somewhat without the grandiose rises and crashing falls of its predecessor but very much in its spirit. It’s like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, New Order, Alcest, and Ida all mashed into one amazing band. Have a Nice Life is a duo out of southern Connecticut. Their music is very atmospherically focused - with Inspirational feelings more than anything. When the vocals kick in, they’re dark and powerful, somewhere between a Jesus and Mary Chain or Slowdive, and something like Steven Wilson.

Their first record Deathconsciousness was a massive success. It made its way into the favorite’s lists of most music critics for the 2000s. It’s just a really unfathomably great album. There’s something really unexplainably touching about it, in the same way as a record like The Disintegration Loops or Hospice is just overwhelmingly affecting. Dan Barrett, one half of the Have a Nice Life duo, has seen some pretty respectable receptions for his elusive side-project Giles Corey, named after one of the Salem Witch Trial victims, who was immortalised in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In case you were unaware, Giles was accused that he and his wife were witches and refused to plead guilty, a plea that would offer sanction from death. He refused because he was not a witch. They pressed him to try and get him to speak, but he died after two days of this treatment - so pleasant inspirations obviously. Giles Corey is miles away from Have a Nice Life, and yet, at the same time in the ballpark. 

Now, six years later, The Unnatural World follows Deathconsciousness as a notorious difficult second album stereotype; the sophomore slump is a well-recognised fear. However, Have a Nice Life have triumphed over it pretty well. While about half the length of its predecessor The Unnatural World does a fairly good job of attempting to escape the ominous shadow of Deathconsciousness while simultaneously attempting to best it. While it certainly does not to that, it’s a great listenable record with definite repeat value. We start off with “Guggenheim Wax Museum” named in part, after the famous New York museum of art. The lyrics are pretty grim and sound like a siren song, like the Song of Roland, speaking of harrow fields and vigilant daggers, noble death no doubt. It fits uncannily well with the chaotic noisy clash of instruments and haunting vocals. Barrett repeats the words: “I wish I was alive,” over and over again in the song, always followed by an extremely turned up foot pedal distortion on the guitars. It’s brilliant.

Defenestration Song” calls back to the band’s earlier influences of a Joy Division or Crispy Ambulance-esque sound. Indeed there is a really early recording of Ian Curtis doing “Disorder” with Joy Division off of the 2007 Deluxe Edition of Unknown Pleasures that almost sentiment-for-sentiment seems to echo the raw emotional power of this track. I refer to that as an example to try and properly portray how exceptionally intimate the rawness of the album is, without being chaotic or amateurish, something very, very, very difficult to do. “Burial Society” is a kind of embarrassing but in a satisfying sad bastard song kind of way. It kind of reads like a Norwegian black metal track lyrically, but when Dan fucking Barrett sings it, it doesn’t matter what he’s saying, it sounds great. The follow-up, “Music Will Untune the Sky” is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s ethereal, and has some crazy Swans shit going on, with church bells and the whole nine yards - it’s just great.

"Cropsey” is the creepiest song on the album, maybe one of the creepiest songs ever. It contains a real interview with a young asylum inhabitant named Johnny from an old NBC documentary about Pennhurst, a controversial state hospital for the mentally ill that operated under horrid conditions and was the subject of a Morrissey tune no less (“Suffer Little Children”). After the interview finishes, the track kicks in with Barrett howling as if he himself had been trapped in an insane asylum. He sounds desperate and maddening, and the lyrics have a certain discomfort in them. One of the best tracks I’ve heard in a LONG time. “Unholy Life” provides a much-needed emotional breath of fresh air after the tenseness of “Cropsey” and it’s a much faster and less pressured track. More chaotic, less sheer emotion and its placement on the record has to be purposeful, it’s so essential in providing a break from the intensity; it does this job very well.

Dan and Tim, Reunited By Fate” and “Emptiness Will Eat The Witch” end the album, both long emotionally charged tracks with huge rises and falls, they build up and crash down like jazz or electronic tracks almost. Their chaos remains resolute till the end and both tracks, “Emptiness” especially, provide good solace and end the record respectively. The Unnatural World is fantastic, first great album I’ve heard so far this year. 
~Johnny Hoel