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Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 9.25
Musicianship 9.25
Lyrics 9.25
Production 9.25
Creativity 9.25
Lasting Value 9.25
Reviewer Tilt 9.25
Final Verdict: 93%
Member Ratings
Vocals 6.17
Musicianship 6.17
Lyrics 6.58
Production 6.42
Creativity 6
Lasting Value 6.5
Reviewer Tilt 6.17
Average: 63%

Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World

Reviewed by: Chris Collum (02/06/14)
Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World
Record Label: The Flenser
Release Date: February 4, 2014


I don’t normally do a “Recommended If You Like” section at the end of my reviews like some writers on this site do, as I think it’s pretty pointless. Why tell you a bunch of records that I think sound similar to the one in question when you may not agree with me about the similarities, and besides Spotify or YouTube is just a few clicks away? However, I’m breaking that “rule” with this review simply because the variety of music that Have a Nice Life’s sophomore album reminds me of is simply astounding. At various points in the record I hear elements of Swans, My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sunn O))), Nine Inch Nails, The Soft Moon, The Jesus Lizard, Salem, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Brand New, The Cure, Bauhaus, Sonic Youth, and many others. The Unnatural World blends disparate styles of dark and atmospheric music into a seamless unity in a similar fashion to what Deafheaven did with Sunbather last year. It also creates a headspace that is so claustrophobically dark it’s almost off-putting, but also so emotionally raw and powerful that it’s impossible to stop listening—kind of like Canadian electronic composer Tim Hecker’s excellent Virgins, also from last year.

Do I have your attention now? Good.

Back in 2008 two guys from Connecticut named Dan Barett and Tim Macuga released a really long and really dark record composed of home recordings they’d been chiseling away at for about five years. The album was called Deathconsciousness and it came with a seventy-page booklet that was supposed to “explain” the album, but in fact raised hundreds more questions than it answered to the very few people who paid attention to the album and the even fewer who bothered to read the whole pamphlet. Supposedly written by one of the band’s professors at UMass-Amherst, the majority of it is an essay about Antiochus, 13th century founder of a bizarre sect of Christianity that essentially amounts to a death cult. The group’s slogan is “death is truth and truth is death” and murder is one of their sacraments. It’s a captivating and somewhat disturbing read, even more so when you do a little bit of digging and discover that in all likelihood the band invented all of it themselves.

As if the back-story surrounding Have a Nice Life’s debut record wasn’t enough of a hurdle, the album itself is over ninety minutes of some of the darkest music recorded in recent years. The band weaves together pieces of “The Books of Terror and Longing,” the purported Antiochean holy text, with accounts of personal emotional turmoil that makes for an agonizing but extremely cathartic listen. Although the record functions somewhat as concept album, the two discs are quite different stylistically. The first one, titled “The Plow That Broke the Plains,” contains more ambient, droning compositions, while the second disc “The Future” is more influenced by industrial and post-punk music.

Now we are presented with The Unnatural World, the group’s first full-length in almost six years. Unlike the jarring differences between the first and second parts of Deathconsciousness, this time around Have a Nice Life do a fantastic job of blending styles seamlessly throughout the course of the record. It works so well partly because Barett and Macuga create a bleak yet spacious aura for the record that allows the often-lengthy compositions to stretch out and go in different directions without loosing a sense of focus or beginning to sound like a completely different album. In interviews the band has said that their location in New England definitely influences the kind of music they make as there’s a lot of woods and other places in that part of the country where it’s easy to wander off alone. That makes a lot of sense as listening to this album conjures to mind images of run-down old whitewashed houses, ancient hardwood forests, ruined stone fences, abandoned barns, eerily foggy clearings, and other things you might expect to find in the countryside of Connecticut or Massachusetts.

“Burial Society” is possibly the record’s best example of Have a Nice Life’s ability to blend disparate musical ideas into a unified whole that not only exceeds the sum of its parts but doesn’t really sound a whole lot like them either. Beginning with ghostly delayed piano and percussion that kind of sounds like trip-hop in a well, the song quickly turns into an angular bit of post-hardcore, with screamed vocals doubling the plaintively sung ones. Towards the end of the song, however, it morphs into an ominous drone composition that flows into the ambient gloom that begins “Music Will Untune the Sky,” a percussionless and mostly wordless song with deep, droning guitar reverbations that are reminiscent of Sunn O))).

Opener “Guggenheim Wax Museum” sets a funereal tone for the record with marching industrial percussion and a fuzzed-over swirl of guitar and synth slowly escalate towards a climactic squall of feedback and an ambient noise comedown. Like many Have a Nice Life songs it fixates on death, but the piercing refrain of “Oh I wish I was alive” gives the song its thrust. Just like the mythological Antiochus, the band has always blurred the line between life and death in their songs, with the focus resting on the painful psychological struggle that connects the two. In that sense, the refrain of “Guggenheim” strikes a similar chord as the plaintive cry of “please, please, please release me” from “The Big Gloom,” one of the most gut-wrenching moments on Deathconsciousness.

With a huge distorted bass riff and jagged, thunderous drums, “Defenestration Song” summons to mind a more aggressive Joy Division, while the song’s final third is a potent squall of feedback that certainly owes a debt to Sonic Youth and other members of the 80s no wave scene. It’s one of the album’s most rousing songs and would not have sounded out of place at all on the volcanic second disc of the band’s debut. “Unholy Life,” the record’s shortest track, also calls to mind Joy Division with its juxtaposition of a pop hook with noisy guitar and a punchy bass line. The album is closed by “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch,” a nearly nine-minute song that is mostly atmospheric organ and droning, reverberated guitar. “Witch” begins with the lines “No matter how hard I try, I’ll never reach the speed of life / No matter how much I write, you’ll never read a single line,” a pretty effective summation of the dire thoughts found throughout this record.

The Unnatural World is a very different record from Deathconsciousness. Its scope is narrower, and it lacks the epic feel that the latter has. However, this makes for a far more cohesive listen, particularly because all of these songs seem bound together by an underlying stylistic unity despite the much-discussed genre-blending. The grainy darkness of the textured atmosphere that Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga create for The Unnatural World is, as the title suggests, a twisted world unto itself. The album represents a triumph for Have a Nice Life after six years of mostly silence, and is a more-than-worthy follow-up to Deathconsciousness.

9.25/10

Additional Information1. Guggenheim Wax Museum
2. Defenestration Song
3. Burial Society
4. Music Will Untune the Sky
5. Cropsey
6. Unholy Life
7. Dan and Tim, Reunited by Fate
8. Emptiness Will Eat the Witch

Official Website | Official Facebook Page

Chris Collum
AP.net Staff Reviewer
Twitter | Last.fm
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 17
09:37 PM on 02/06/14
#2
jordalsh
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interesting to say the least, I'll have to check this out. nice review.
10:41 PM on 02/06/14
#3
Zamilton Nerfy
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Fantastic review, friend! I've been jammin' this since it came out, it was a little hard to get into at first but it has really paid off. Killer album.
12:33 AM on 02/07/14
#4
oldwirehands
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I think I might like Deathconsciousness a bit more, but this one grows on me after each listen. Objectively, they're probably on the same level of awesome; this band is just really really good.
04:49 AM on 02/07/14
#5
amorning_ofsleep
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It's been hard to not listen to since it's came out.
05:02 AM on 02/07/14
#6
Ryan Dennehy
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considering i just got their first record im gonna let that gestate before listening to this but i didnt know about the whole Antiochus thing. cool write up chris. not sure how this band manages to tie all of their disparate influences together so well
06:04 AM on 02/07/14
#7
Chris Collum
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Thanks for reading everyone!

considering i just got their first record im gonna let that gestate before listening to this but i didnt know about the whole Antiochus thing. cool write up chris. not sure how this band manages to tie all of their disparate influences together so well
Yeah man definitely let Deathconsciousness sink in before moving on to this one. I think there's a very good chance you'll like this record even more than the debut though. Also you couldn't have picked a better time of year to get into this band haha.
06:06 AM on 02/07/14
#8
Jeff_Ryan
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This is definitely one of my favorites of 2014 so far
06:09 AM on 02/07/14
#9
Ryan Dennehy
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Thanks for reading everyone!

Yeah man definitely let Deathconsciousness sink in before moving on to this one. I think there's a very good chance you'll like this record even more than the debut though. Also you couldn't have picked a better time of year to get into this band haha.
thats kind of what it felt like haha. im into it for sure
06:10 AM on 02/07/14
Chris Collum
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thats kind of what it felt like haha. im into it for sure
Yeah Deathconsciousness is definitely one of my go-to "fucking hell it's cold and the world is miserable" records haha
07:33 AM on 02/07/14
_><_
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I enjoyed Deathconsciousness, but the fact that this whole thing is drowned in reverb way too hard and is way too drony for me really stops me from enjoying this unfortunately.
07:35 AM on 02/07/14
Chris Collum
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I enjoyed Deathconsciousness, but the fact that this whole thing is drowned in reverb way too hard and is way too drony for me really stops me from enjoying this unfortunately.
Interesting. I understand how the reverb could be off-putting to some--although I love the sound personally--but I don't really think there are more drone elements on this one as compared with Deathconsciousness.
09:02 AM on 02/07/14
heycasey4
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Great album. I know its alot different, but I wish Brand New would do a album similar to this.
11:20 AM on 02/07/14
Chris Collum
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Dan RT'd my review, woohoo! haha
02:57 PM on 02/07/14
red8ge
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garbage
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