Have a Nice Life – Deathconsciousness

Let me put things this way: If we gave out a “Most Promising New Artist” award, the Middletown, Connecticut-based group Have a Nice Life would be recipient numero uno. There is something stark and beautiful about this lo-fi-gothic-industrial-garage-rock-shoegaze-post-black-metal (that was a mouthful) band and their debut LP Deathconsciousness, at least in theory. The music literally echoes with a malaise of impenetrable grief that very nearly threatens to envelop the listener in its black cloud of self-doubt and sorrow. This level of raw emotion is seldom reached outside of the most obvious name drops (The Arcade Fire, The Antlers, Neutral Milk Hotel), even surpassing the band’s 90’s black metal forebears in this respect.

I’m sure by now you’ve already scrolled down to the bottom of the page to read my score. If it’s so praise-worthy, why would I give it a modest C? I could just end it here and say that it’s because at nearly an hour and a half, a significant portion of the record is entirely disposable. Despite what a Tool or Dream Theater fan might have you believe, excessive length for its own sake is often more detrimental to a quality record than tantalizing brevity. To be honest, I’ve only ever digested Tool’s Lateralus in its entirety one time, mainly because five minutes of buildup is simply too much to endure several times over the course of one record, especially when the culprits have nothing else in mind than fattening that time length out of pretentiousness or as a sales pitch or what have you.

Of course, there’s much more to it than self-indulgence when it comes to Have a Nice Life. If excessiveness was my only reason for hampering such an excellent debut, I would retire this keyboard right after slapping myself with it. With one LP, terrible production values, and little to no commercial backing, this group doesn’t have much to their name to be flaunting in flamboyant patience-testing monotony. However, that’s not what their drawn-out nature implies in the first place. In the case of HaNL, much like two of their mood-intensive influences Sunn O))) and Earth, greater-than-average length is essential to the immersion process, though to an extent. The issue arrives not from long songs, but from superfluous long songs.

At their best (“Bloodhail,” “The Big Gloom,” The Future”), these tracks live up to the stark morbidity implied by Jacques-Louis David’s portrait The Death of Marat used for the album’s cover. The record corrals its strongest pieces in the beginning and end, wrapping up with the engagingly emotional epic “Earthmover.” The interim is what takes the greatest toll from the record’s lasting impression. If frontmen Dan and Tim have never gotten their hands on a Mogwai album, I’ll legally change my name to Fred Durst. The album’s weakest tracks, which can easily be removed in a snippet of about 30 minutes beginning with the mundane “Telephony,” display all the signs of homogenized post-rock, from the mind-numbingly minimalist melodies to the samples of muffled intercoms (“There is No Food”).

The two behind HaNL have supposedly crafted an intricate story that deals in religion and nihilism to accompany the music’s macabre tone. With so much effort put into a rich back story, you’d think the prose would bleed somewhat into the lyrics. When you can actually decipher the record’s sophomoric wails, it’s only to reveal lines like “I just don’t accept this,” “I don’t feel anything where this love should be,” and “We wish we were dead” that practically scream Dashboard Confessional. Most often, and thankfully so, the singing is next to indecipherable underneath the layers of saturated noise.

In the many moments where the record’s prospects pay off, it strikes gold. Volume and depth are by the spoonful, due in part to the poor production. This is about as lo-fi as it gets; the bass drum is heavily saturated, splotching across the ears like ink drops on a page, the snare drum rings like Lars Ulrich’s snare/trash can lid on Metallica’s aggressively bad St. Anger, the guitars crackle and fold in a futile effort to transcend the power of their amplifiers, and the singer drones unintelligibly beneath this landslide of noise. As horrible as it may sound on paper, these conditions are perfect for inspiring the sense of misery the band strove so hard to fashion. Their efforts weren’t in vain, either. This is certainly the most depressing album of 2008 and perhaps one of the most depressing of the decade. The only problem here is a naïve lack of discretion on the part of Dan and Tim. Of course, practice makes perfect, and these guys have got the right idea for their imaginations to reach fruition.

Score: C

by Mason “So close yet so far” McGough


1 Comment

  1. New Review! Have a Nice Life – Deathconsciousness « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Have a Nice Life – Deathconsciousness, by Mason McGough […]

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