STAFF PICKS: Have A Nice Life, The Unnatural World

On their forceful second full-length the Connecticut shoegazers offer deeper mystery than shadowy press photos.

- Feb 13, 2014

 

Mystery will survive the internet. A sugar-coated version of it is commodified, while governments simultaneously try to do away with unknown unknowns completely. But there are gaps even between the synapses in our brains. Some things get lost, others seem they could fit but just don't. We can't carry it all, so we pick up what we can and go about making our narratives.

...a funereal procession as sung from within the coffin.

Have A Nice Life's first album Deathconsciousness, released in 2008, is surrounded with unanswered questions, like why such a real achievement of the shoegaze/post-punk revival slipped past the larger music press's hungry vacuum. But the riddles explored by Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga only get bigger when you actually listen: Deathconsciousness is linked with the Antiocheans, an obscure 11th Century group of Italian heretics who revered death (the 2009 edition came with a 75-page booklet introducing the listener to their philosophies). It was a puzzle you'd think a larger group of listeners outside of their dedicated cult would want to crack. Perhaps the record's own mass was too great for shoegaze neophytes weaned on lighter, modern stuff, something Barrett touched on in an old interview:  "We were, and are, attracted to anything so violently at odds with its own zeitgeist, because we feel that way as well." But is it all design or evolution?

Have a Nice Life - Burial Society

The Unnatural World, the band's second album and first with avant-metal label The Flenser, lands in the latter camp. It's nearly half the length of the Connecticut band's debut, but loses none of the force. It finds the band back to Earth, exploring the now rather than what comes next. The ambition isn't lessened, and by nature of its steely ambience, not entirely shifted away from the spiritual realm. "Burial Society" is a funereal procession as sung from within the coffin. "Dan and Tim, Reunited By Fate," a focal point of the album, expunges a violent and cleansing catharsis that suggests the same violent and conflicting forces that operate our world were also behind the band's reunion.

Like Scottish contemporaries The Twilight Sad, Have A Nice Life's vocals sound recorded in some long abandoned church. Jesu's latter-day experiments with electronics bubble throughout. And "Unholy Life" earns the band's Joy Division comparisons with Stephen Morris's shyly winsome guitarlines before obliterating it in a wash of distortion. But the triumph of The Unnatural World, as with Deathconsciousness, is the seamlessness of its pastiche. The threads that bind it are unpredictable and invisible, and attached to brutal ironies. What emerges is a record screaming against the ignorance our senses afford us rather than being unable to see what we cannot comprehend.

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