Album Review: Have A Nice Life—”The Unnatural World”

By Adam Bernhardt

It is impossible to speak of the band Have a Nice Life without mentioning their vast exploration of loneliness, isolation, and death in 2008’s Deathconsciousness.  Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga’s dour vision of already dour post-punk, brought elements of drone, doom, and darkwave to the fore, drowning them in a cavernous reverb that seemed to echo the hidden anxieties and despondency we feel at our lowest moments.  Tales of forgotten gods praying for death, the deterministic powerlessness of humanity as seen through Warhammer figures, and the numbness of depression figured throughout the lyrical landscape of Deathconsciousness.  A powerful observation of humanity’s ills, Deathconsciousness was only beset by its length – at two CDs worth of material there was the occasional song which fell flat. Although not completely a hindrance, it’s production was decisively lo-fi as a result of lost master tapes. Despite this, Deathconsciousness solidified HANL’s reputation for perfecting a gloomy aesthetic and unfaltering existential despair, and became a word of mouth success almost overnight.

Album art for Deathconsciousness.

Album art for Deathconsciousness.

With The Unnatural World, HANL have again succeeded in making the unnatural sound completely natural. Largely following the pattern established by Deathconsciousness, The Unnatural World revels in the darkness with the forgotten and powerless taking centre stage.  The opener, “The Guggenheim Wax Museum,” sets the tone for much of the album. As ominous keyboards reach a crescendo, heavily reverberating drums keep a funeral dirge pace as Barrett’s heavily layered vocals place words in the mouths of the inanimate wax models: “I wish I was alive/ Oh, I wish I was alive.” As often as Barrett’s songs use allegorical characters they are also confessional – “Defenestration Song” speaks to his inability to resolve his restless nature to which he remains powerless. The resentment and self-loathing that comes across in “Burial Society,” the “anxious hate” that turns him away from being a better man and towards suicide, becomes the only agency awarded to the truly despondent. Somewhere between affirmation and condemnation, Barrett’s lyrics demonstrate a resigned passivity to forces beyond our control, either mental or supernatural. These impotent personas that yearn for a life they are unable to achieve reflect the bedroom rock ethos of HANL and certainly explains its popularity among the sadsacks cluttering image boards on the Internet.

Album art for The Unnatural World.

Album art for The Unnatural World.

Compounding the bleakness of The Unnatural World’s lyrical vision is the densely layered monolithic slabs that, appropriately enough, echo The Cure’s darkest exploration, Pornography.  The pounding tribal drums and abundance of synths certainly pair up nicely with Robert Smith’s exercise in nihilism. However, HANL have added opaque layers of guitar, synth and reverb adding a shoegaze-y sheen to the procession.  As always, the basslines are completely on point, driving “Dan and Tim Reunited By Fate” to the heart of darkness.  Barrett’s vocals only occasionally rise above the din, content to stay firmly within the swirling gumbo of noise and static. The austere drum machine intro and delayed piano runs that open “Burial Society” are easily one of the more notable moments of the album, as the dynamic interplay compliments the utter contempt of it’s lyrical voice completely.  The sound collage of patient interviews that begins “Cropsey” also adds a certain degree of Reich-esque minimalism. The voices build in volume and begin to repeat, creating a disorientating and disturbing chorus that builds a tension begging to be resolved, forcing the band’s ensuring as powerfully cathartic. One of the main drawbacks to The Unnatural World is that there is no equivalent to epic tracks such as “Earthmover” or “Holy Fucking Shit 40,000.” Clearly HANL are capable of writing them, but instead have chosen to perform a few drone pieces instead. Although The Unnatural World is much more condensed than Deathconsciousness, the two drone pieces plus an already released song, “Defenestration Song,” leaves the listener with the impression this may have been a rushed production, despite it being recorded over the course of several years. With The Unnatural World, HANL have created a worthy follow-up. However, it is also clear that Deathconsciousness will continue to loom over their body of work for some time. (The Flenser)

One Response to “Album Review: Have A Nice Life—”The Unnatural World””
  1. lifelifedeathdeath says:

    Love it.

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