Wednesday, 28 January 2009

2008, #2: Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness

This time last year I made one of the most surprising and unexpected musical discoveries I've had in a long time. After hearing much enthusing from one or two people on a music forum I posted on, I glanced at the band's website which held the bold claim "The band Have a Nice Life would like to announce that they have recorded the most depressing record in the history of music". Did I think that it was an overambitious statement? Of course. Did I think that there was a certain element of pretension to it? Undoubtedly. Did it have me hooked? Absolutely.

Have a Nice Life is essentially the Connecticut-based musical partnership between two friends, Tim Macuga and Dan Barrett. Formed in 2000, it's been a long road to where they are now: Deathconsciousness is the product of their musical endeavours during a five-year period. Spanning two discs and accompanied by a fascinating 75-page booklet that explains the dark religious history that the album references, it is a triumph of the DIY home recording approach, showing just how ambitious and emotionally accomplished an album two people can make using a laptop, a guitar, a microphone and Logic. Initially given almost no real promotion whatsoever, what started as a few enthusiastic whispers about the album's brilliance spread like wildfire through word-of-mouth on forums and sites like, eventually making it a cult hit and leading to the first CD-R pressing completely selling out on the label's webstore.


With the facts out of the way, let's touch on the album's concept. Though in practice the album is a hugely personal statement from the authors that spills out way beyond cold conceptual ponderings into something that is emotionally pretty intoxicating and affecting, all the lyrics of the album are tinged by a fascination for the symbolism and religious history of an obscure religious cult named Antiocheanism that supposedly emerged during the later years of the Roman Empire. The central teaching of this sect was the idea of Deathconsciousness: the all-consuming awareness that death surrounds us, is final, and is utterly inevitable, therefore prompting the question - "What is the point?" I don't have the booklet to hand and it's a while since I've read it, but while this is a very grim viewpoint that I certainly wouldn't want to dwell on for too long, the booklet alone is a reason to buy this: written by a professor at the University of Massachussets, it is a beautifully harrowing read, detailing the life and legacy of the near-mythical Antiochus and the terrifying themes of his teachings. When read while listening to the album, it makes for an overwhelming experience - so while I provide you with the music here, which is really the principal reason I love this album, if you enjoy what you hear I strongly recommend you purchase the album from the Enemies List website as the only way you'll really get the most out of this album is if you combine it with a read through the booklet.

To some of you, that probably (and understandably) all sounds pompous and self-indulgent. Allow me, then, to sell you on the music itself, which is why I'm writing about the album after all. The Enemies List site describes the album as falling "somewhere between My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, and Swans" - that's probably as good an introductory statement to the sound of the album as anything else you're going to find. Mixing dark fuzzy shoegaze guitars with hulking great cavernous industrial drum sounds, everything thoroughly soaked in reverb, the production relies on lo-fi sensibilities but at the same time manages to sound enormous. The rawness of the mixing may put some audiophiles off, but frankly I can't imagine this working with a more polished sound - part of the charm of the record is the emphasis on home recording sensibilities, and besides, the hazy fuzz that many of the songs shroud themselves in is part of what makes the mood of the album so powerful. Despite these initially abrasive production values, Deathconsciousness is a surprisingly accessible album: 'Bloodhail' is a weighty, moody and utterly brilliant song with a wonderful bassline and echoing vocal harmonies that would find themselves very much at home in The Cure's discography, while the first half of 'Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000' is a lo-fi indie-pop ditty with some wonderful lines ("I've replaced my heart with metal parts/And I'm working just fine, but I can't get it to start") and the massive hooks of pacier post-punk numbers 'Waiting For Black Metal Records To Come in the Mail' and 'Deep, Deep' are barely contained by the raw production. My personal favourites on the album are 'The Big Gloom' and 'Earthmover': the plaintive melodies of the former are initially anchored by a wall of fuzzed-up guitars and bass, before the drums kick in and the wall of sound becomes something unbelievably gorgeous, enveloping your ears and tugging at your heartstrings. The latter has a kind of graceful beauty in its monolithic fuzz, the noise eventually giving way to a serene wash of vocal harmony before the gloriously loud shoegazing conclusion kicks in to end the album in style. Quieter, more understated numbers like 'I Don't Love' and 'Who Would Leave Their Son Out in the Sun?' give the album an even greater sense of depth. The instrumental 'A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut', despite its ridiculous title, destroys me in the best possible way every time I hear its subtle but overwhelmingly affecting chord progressions, setting the mood for the album wonderfully. Some of these songs have become kind of personal for me, providing the soundtrack to many of my more brooding moments over the last year.

I could write a lot more about this album, but it would get even more indulgent than this article already is, so I'll round things up. Deathconsciousness succeeds in that it is simultaneously accessible and brilliantly ambitious, setting the benchmark for home recording and really challenging DIY artists to record something similarly creative and engaging using a laptop and microphone in their own bedroom. Musically, lyrically, and conceptually it is a very powerful emotional experience that, when combined with the accompanying booklet, will likely keep you fascinated for a while if you're anything like me. Regardless - check out the two discs linked to below, and, if you enjoy them, I really recommend that you download the $5 booklet/album package from the band's website because Deathconsciousness, at its most rewarding, is a sprawling experience to fully immerse and lose yourself in.

Sleeping in and out of an ice bath
No warmth, no life without
It's too much, my arms, my legs are wood, unconscious trees with roots deep in the ground
We will all be out, soon, an ocean ringed with tile.
I know that's not your style but it certainly will be mine if I can't make this right.

So please, please, please, release me.

Can you hear my faintest breath, is it amplified?
The number that I've become will put you inside
I've got a message that I must relay
No, I can't delay it one more time (it's not going well)
It is desperate, can you relate, can you please, please relate? (I'm not holding up)
I am trapped, I'm stuck here on this bathroom floor and I don't have much more hope or pride
No air, no food (but I'm sure that I'm still alive..)

Just open your eyes, your dead ones (all ashes on the floor)
I will never need you more, just open your eyes, your dead ones.
-Have a Nice Life; "Bloodhail"

Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness (Disc 1: The Plow That Broke the Plains)
Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness (Disc 2: The Future)


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Anonymous said...

This is the greatest band, i love it so much and it means alot for me that they get big, i NEED to see them live.