Have a Nice Life
The Unnatural World
[The Flesner; 2014]
Recently Trevor Powers (the brains behind Youth Lagoon) pleaded on Twitter, “Please, no more genres. Find a better way to classify music.” Only a few weeks prior, NPR writer Bob Boilen questioned the future of labeling sounds with a blog entitled “Can You Imagine a World Without Music Genres?” Both of them have a point. With new bastardized sub-genres popping up daily, it’s getting to the point where one will be required to use an algorithm to crack the sub-genre code laid out by the all-knowing music reviewer.
Take the latest Have a Nice Life album, The Unnatural World, as an example. Is it industrial-shoegaze-electro-drone-post-rock? Or is it new wave-ambient-doom-post-punk? The Unnatural World is just that – a mish-mash, cross-section of everything you’ve ever heard that ever mattered to you, yet it sounds strangely alien and eerily refreshing. The music on The Unnatural World is a constant contradiction. It can be soft yet overpowering. It can be spacious yet suffocating. It can be beautiful yet darkly foreboding. Despite this constant dichotomy in the music, the album all stays grounded deep within the lonely caverns that Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga have created with their claustrophobic production. This is an album’s textural contradictions and doomful spirit are perfectly suited for a complex soul like Gollum.
It’s been a long wait for those who first got into Have a Nice Life back in 2008 with their debut Deathconciousness, but fortunately, with The Unnatural World the duo has not only lived up to their already underground classic, they’ve surpassed it in many respects. The music is even more brooding and droning, the constant echoing low hum always looming in the background, an endless reminder that no matter where the song takes you, it’s always going to end in anguish. This pairs with the album’s message that death is inevitable, and life is just a slow march to that unknown destination. Optimistic stuff, indeed.
Despite it’s constant theme of death, Have a Nice Life provide a couple high-energy moments with “Unholy Life” and “Defenestration Song.” Both songs have buzzing basslines and chiming guitar echoes that swirl into the atmospheres Joy Division explored decades ago. “Guggenheim Wax Museum” and Burial Society” also have moments of pop sensibility, but these memorable melodies are buried beneath a sea of metallic reverb and accentuated by a choir of ghostly voices crying out from the great beyond.
“Guggenheim Wax Museum”:
The highlights of the album though are the moments when they go full-drone-mode, allowing the songs to expand into a cathedral of melancholy. “Music Will Untune the Sky” is a slow build, the voices conjuring up a sense of tension with each passing minute. By the end, a crushing fog of garbled distortion arrives and decimates any open space left within the room. “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch” morphs and melds over an ominous church organ playing what amounts to an unavoidable death dirge.
“Emptiness Will Eat the Witch”:
The highlight for me though has to be “Cropsey” because it is the one track that truly combines all of the album’s elements into one tour de force. The song is built around audio taken from an interview with a young boy at Pennhurst Mental Institute. With a backbone of a nursery rhyme glockenspiel, the child’s monsters reveal themselves slowly via a constant buzz and the cries for help that emerge from the shadows. By song’s end, the post-punk side of Have a Nice Life have arrived, trying to make some sense of the confusion within that padded room.
No matter which way you slice it, The Unnatural World is a difficult album to wrap your head around. Its moments of ambient drone are counter-balanced by the post-punk apocalypse of other tracks. The concoction Have a Nice Life have created is such a free-for-all mixture that it reminds me of childhood when my friends and I would go to the gas station and mix every single soda on tap into one cup for a drink we called “Suicide.” In the end, maybe that’s exactly what Have A Nice Life’s death-obsessed jambalaya of noise should be called: Suicide. No, scratch that: Post-Suicide.