Have a Nice Life
|2008||Nahvalr - Nahvalr||.../...|
|2010||Time of Land||7/10|
|2014||The Unnatural World||7.5/10|
|2015||Black Wing - Is Doomed||.../...|
|2019||>>Sea of Worry||.../...|
Review last updated: August 31, 2019
Alright boys, for those of y'all who haven't been blackpilled/wrist-slitter-pilled on the tremendous emotional behemoth known as Dan Barrett, hang onto your hats because I'm gonna drop a truth bomb. Have a Nice Life is the most influential rock band of the past 15 years. Their shoegaze synesthetic transduction Deathconsciousness, taken in its most literal form, is documenting what it is that separates man from animal: awareness of one's own mortality. Taken in its most abstract form, it is a raging vehicle of pain and despair that has a surface texture that is sticky, gooey, watery - like a filthy puddle of mud and rocks during a rain storm. This album blends the best parts of many genres: shoegaze, post-punk, industrial, drone, ambient. It is often compared to the uniquely blended styles of Joy Division, Swans, Nine Inch Nails. It is the emotional and conceptual "night" to the hyper-romantic, love lorn, ultra-impressionistic "day" established by earlier shoegazers My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive: Instead of love, romance, wild rides of feelings and expression that can only be vaguely interpreted, on this album you get alienation, isolation, self-harm, agony.
If you've hung out with me or have been my friend at all since 2014, you probably listened to the 2012 gatefold pressing of this in my basement with me. Next to the drum set and the "Be alert for Foul Balls" sign. That's right, guys: It's a Tanner album. Everyone I've shown this work to has loved it immensely, and what saddens me but makes me feel connected to them, is that they relate to a lot of it like I do. I can't for sure remember what it says in the little booklet that went with the record, but the album Deathconsciousness was recorded over a span of 2 or 3 years.
Everyone knows the story of the album's sound quality, and why it even sounds the way it does: Dan ended up losing the original masters for the album, and the only thing he had left to publish was the 128 kbps MP3 transcode. This album is sometimes criticized, usually by goddamn egg-headed thoughtless philistines, that the sound quality is too "muddy" - the drums are too loud, the bass overpowers, the vocals are near-indistinguishable aside from the quotable lines, most of it is in mono channels or unusually mixed, whatever. What started out as an accident could easily be interpreted as an artistic decision, to crush the physical details of the music into a homogeneous layer - what this means is that you can look up Have a Nice Life on YouTube, watch a video at 360p on a shitty connection, and not even miss out on any audio quality or details in the music, and I'm serious - not even the vinyl has much detail beyond that.
Even though I'm positive Dan was just so depressed and probably inadvertently moved the album to Recycle Bin, the way Deathconsciousness was made follows in the footsteps of not just his black metal influences Burzum (who used intentionally insufficient, fraying amplifiers and headset mics to create fuzz and static), but also Daniel Johnston, Brian Eno, Godspeed You Black Emperor, even the Elephant 6 collective, who often used calliope, wire, decayed organs from the 1930s, antique microphones and amplifiers. Not to mention all the incredible slowcore that had been created up until this point in rock history. Deathconsciousness is a document of twenty-first century alienation: A man has little identity or sense of self, he has lost touch with his friends, he is abandoned by his girlfriend, all he has is the cold glow of screens, alcohol, self-abuse, and the hiss of mic feedback to soothe himself.
Even though the album credits just Dan and Tim Macuga, I'm sure there were a couple of others who popped up on here. Overdubs are extensive. Some of these instruments sound borrowed, like they were just working with what they had. They never had a real drummer, only drum machines. Casio keyboards from the '80s popped up. Guitars were chained through a Rube Goldberg of pedals and effects. All of this is pure, undeniable evidence that real talent exists in the sea of obscurity, and it rightfully bubbles up to critical acclaim by reaching a wider, appreciative audience. How many people do you think knew about Deathconsciousness in 2008? I'll bet they had 100 views on YouTube that year, if they had even made it there by then. In 2012? I discovered that band that year, on 4chan, when I was 15 or so. They only existed on the Enemies List Bandcamp until the internet noticed them, and they picked up traction. And now even the almighty Pitchfork is kissing their feet, pretending they totally knew about them in 2008, pretending they didn't just listen to Giles Corey last week. There's so many incredible moments in the hour and a half or so:
- animals lay themselves down at your feet
- "fuck..." - Waiting for Black Metal Records
- "everything you do is planned out in advance"
If you've made it to the end of "Earthmover", you will be reveling in your own sadness, but at least you will be filled to the brim with some of the most honest, thoughtful music that's ever been recorded.
If Deathconsciousness is one kind of masterpiece, Giles Corey is another. The Giles Corey self-titled is nothing less of an elaborate musical suicide note, a primordial rampage crying out against a world of alienation and isolation. One can only imagine the kind of depression that would invoke music of this sort: not only grotesquely visceral guitars and vocals, but also an abandoned church's worth of organ and piano, a collossal thunder clap of intense drums, and the bat-out-of-hell bloody murder screams of the self-abuser, putting any kind of "slowcore" in its shallow grave.
If any of my readers have had suicidal thoughts themselves, or have had someone close to them go through suicidal attempts or ideation, many parts of this album will hit home. The moody, ever-haunting murder ballad "Blackest Bile" provokes imagery of towns burning, cities being evacuated, countries that were once prosperous reducing each other to fields of death barren wastes. The kind of shit that makes you want to flush all your money down the toilet and murder your child while watching Cher on MTV. I'm sorry. Please, if you have experienced depression, approach Giles Corey with discretion and strength. Stuff like this ends up being the "straw that breaks the camel's back", the one thing that tells you to go and never look back. So if you're that impressionable, stop listening to albums and seek help.
Depression eats away at your mind. What was once a "normal", functioning human being becomes reduced to a fountain of pain and despair, normal everyday tasks become absolutely impossible, like showering, brushing your teeth, making more appointments to refill the meds that keep you from killing yourself. The absolute scariest part of Giles Corey is the sheer, undeniable, intensely alarming HAPPINESS of it. Yes, happiness. Listen to the major chords of "Blackest Bile", the hopeless nostalgia in the wedding march "Spectral Bride", the closure, warmth and compassion of the epilogue "Buried Above Ground": A very alarming part of being a suicidal person is making the decision that you're actually going through with it. At this point, instead of continuing to wallow in self-imposed agony, the suicidal person feels a wave of euphoria, simply from knowing that they soon will no longer exist. I think certain elements of Giles Corey reflect this grim enthusiasm. A suicidal person is excited to watch someone they hate die.
Giles Corey is a very complex musical document not only for this reason - expressing total agony and loss due to isolation and loneliness, while also, even in the same songs, expressing true euphoria because you know your own life is soon to be destroyed - but it is also incredibly remarkable and important for another reason. It evokes incredibly bleak and macabre images with highly colorful, vivid, and attention-grabbing atmospheric techniques. I'm not trying to compare this to the operatic plot twists of Low, or the mournful funeral marches of Down Colorful Hill, even the campfire confessions of Microphones - although those have certainly placed an influence - I'm talking about enormous waves of chaos, pure illustrated, illuminated, obscured, impressionistic agony. Even though this music is made individually of simple parts, simple chord progressions and drum patterns, each voice makes up a small role in the complex, psychosexual self-annihilating hurricane of pain.
I hope this review doesn't sound like it's romanticizing suicide, because it's not. If you think there's anything positive, "cute", "attractive", or "sweet" about suicidal people, you need help, and you definitely need to stop watching Netflix originals, reading vampire novels, and listening to Elliott Smith. This state of mind is not something anyone should aspire to be, this mental anguish is not something I would wish on my worst enemy's pets. However, I think artists with great capacities for pain and suffering often become inspired, and they can creatively reach those who are also suffering.
If you've made it to the end of this album, and you're still breathing, you haven't cut yourself, you haven't nodded or passed out, I hope you see the work of beauty that has performed itself before your ears, and I hope you realize there is still hope, and beauty, and compassion in the world. And if you have self-harmed, I would like you to know it's not your fault. This is not something anyone can control, and it's not something anyone would wish on themselves.
"No One Is Ever Going to Want Me" is the musical "climax", the point of the album where all the energy builds up and is released in a shimmering, dazzling display. This song sounds like a choir of the damned is singing it as they all burn alive, as each person in the crowd is desperately trying to annihilate the concept of their own self. It sounds like what a terrible train of thoughts would sound like if it were a swarm of bees or bullets, speeding and shooting around, hitting and destroying everything in the room.
I have a bunch of awful shit inside of me. I'm not perfect. A lot of times I'm barely holding on. I like to think I'm going to be okay, but I can only reassure myself of so much.