Have A Nice Life - The Unnatural World
Indie music is a funny thing. To most people, certain individuals or bands are completely anonymous; you could read their name or pass them in the street and it wouldn’t mean a thing to you. But to others, those same people can have a profound impact on their lives and if you hear they’re producing something new you fall into fits of uncontrolled trepidation and excitement. Have A Nice Life, comprised of gloomy Connecticut troubadours Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, had such an effect on me when I heard they were releasing a new album; their first for 6 years.
Their first and only album before this year was 2008’s Deathconsciousness. If you’ve never heard of it I’m not surprised. The album was basically ignored upon its release but over those 6 years it’s slowly started to circulate through various circles. The double album is 85 minutes of dense, dark and touching music that spans genres such as shoegaze, drone, industrial, ambient, post-rock, post-punk and lo-fi indie. Personally, I feel it contains some of the most emotive and beautifully painful sounding music I have ever heard. It has an unbelievable ability to hit a nerve with almost everyone that hears it. So now I guess you can partly understand why I was so excited when I heard its follow up, The Unnatural World, was scheduled for release.
The Unnatural World picks up almost exactly from where Deathconsciousness finished. The majority of the songs sound like they could have been recorded in the same sessions as those that produced the songs for its predecessor. The eight songs are firmly planted in the worlds of shoegaze and drone with healthy doses of post-punk and industrial added to the mixture. The whole lot is then wrapped up in the duo’s typical lo-fi shtick. Although the combination of genres is fairly original, influences from artists such as Joy Division, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tim Hecker, Guided By Voices, Swans, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine are all clearly heard.
The album opens with the drone-laden 'Guggenheim Wax Museum'; a gloriously post-apocalyptic sounding track that would fit perfectly to a book like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. The multi-layered vocals float over industrial percussion and drone as the song builds into a post-rock-esque climax. The album backs this up with possibly the loudest and most immediately catchy track; 'Defenstration Song'. Employing pounding drums and a thick, chugging bass line; both of which were somewhat of a trademark on Deathconsciousness, the track has a stunning chorus, where the vocals scream “Get Off My Back!/Get Off My Back!”. It sounds like an anthem for misunderstood youths to play when their parents lecture them about their dress-sense or lack of application at school. 'Defenstration Song' is followed up by 'Burial Society', my favourite track on the album. The song heads in a more shoegaze direction than the first two, recalling the beauty of tracks like 'Bloodhail' and 'The Big Gloom' on Deathconsciousness. “It isn’t real but it feels real/It isn’t real but it feels real” Dan Barrett sings over the top of a soaring instrumentation. It’s a simple chorus but the longing it exudes is palpable.
The next two tracks 'Music Will Untune The Sky' and 'Cropsey' return to more drone orientated sounds, but they are generally more understated and slow-building than the first few tracks. The voice-over at the start of the latter adds an eerie touch but you can’t help but feel it wasn’t entirely needed, as a) the album is dark and eerie as it is and b) the voice over is neither interesting nor does it fit the song properly.
Things roar back into life with 'Unholy Life', a more exuberant track that stacks on more and more sound until it seems to collapse under its own weight. It feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, as the song shows a lot of promise before finishing all too quickly at just 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
The guys return to the slow-build formula for the final two tracks: 'Dan and Tim, Reunited by Fate' and the absolutely epic closer 'Emptiness Will Eat The Witch'. The sparse guitar that closes out the latter is particularly gorgeous and memorable, feeling almost as though all their instruments have imploded in on themselves and it is only this single guitar left.
As good as the album is, the overwhelming feeling I had when finishing it was “Is it over already?”. At 40 minutes shorter than their previous outing, this is perhaps understandable but all the same, the album does feel like its missing another track or two. The lack of any noticeable progression in sound could also be seen as a negative, however the band is so wonderfully original that it is not necessarily a bad thing.
By following up the staggering achievement that was Deathconsciousness, The Unnatural World had a very difficult job, and while it may not quite reach the dizzying heights of its predecessor, it is still an excellent album and one of the most rewarding listens you are likely to find all year.
I give it 8.5/10