Review Summary: The most beautiful album of 2008 has already arrived.
Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness
There's no better way to sell a concept album then to have lore surrounding the album's narrative. Pink Floyd has enjoyed massive success with the anarchical The Wall
and the spaced out Dark Side of the Moon
. Dark Side of the Moon
has such a deep legacy that people figured out that it can be synced up with the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz," the opening ambience of "Breathe" accompanying the Miramax lion growling. The Mars Volta have led their fans through crazy narratives. Their first album, Deloused in the Comatorium
, had an accompanying booklet that gave insight into the storyline, which allegedly documents the psychological journey of a friend who ODs and while trapped in his own psyche, decides to let himself die on the last track. That album alone spawned countless fan theories, interpretations, and online communities just to investigate the odd world of Cerpin Taxt. So when I got my copy of Deathconsciousness
in the mail, and was presented with a double-disc album in a slim DVD case, and an accompanying 70+ page booklet documenting the life, literature, and followers of a 13th century Italian writer and religious figure named Antiochus, I was immediately wrapped into a realm of heresy, religious persecution, and murder (which are more aptly labeled as suicides). As a historical figure, Antiochus is absurdly obscure, and the collected materials in the booklet may be the most complete documentation of his existence as I cannot find anything on the internet or using my school's library browsing system. In short, the concept is lofty, convoluted, and intense, not unlike the drug-induced dreams of The Mars Volta or Pink Floyd.
But a concept album can have a good concept but not be a good album. In the case of Deathconsciousness
, the emotions and happenings of the life of Antiochus are perfectly captured in the mood of the actual music. All at once the album can sound deadly, harrowing, ambient, subdued, rough and refined. The two primary band members, Dan (ex-In Pieces) and Tim, wear their influences well, combining shoegaze, industrial, black metal, post-rock, dark ambient, and alternative to make a paradoxical, intriguing sound. While the songs are expansive and plodding, some of them taking 10 minutes to unfold in the spirit of post-rock can also be claustrophobic with digital, industrialized percussion and distorted, fuzzed out guitar. While the songs are challenging and inscrutable, they also have downright catchy moments. While the album is amazingly ambitious (the individually named discs, The Plow That Broke the Plains
and The Future
explore countless musical and lyrical ideas over the course of its hour and a half run time), there is something grounded about the album considering the use of both analog and digital recording and the pop-dependent genres (e.g. shoegaze). They even rhyme casually throughout the album, which is a no-no in today's hyperartsy concept album landscape (consider the through-composed style of Circle Takes the Square's lyrics). Even their band name, Have a Nice Life, sounds more like a Hilary Duff song that of a lore-obsessed, genre-blending duo. Oh wait it is. Have a Nice Life's aesthetic, which is highly original and unlike that of any band I've heard before can only be described as sublime.
More specifically, these songs are incredibly powerful. "The Big Gloom" does exactly what its title implies. It's a shoegaze epic that is as beautiful and uplifting as it is dark and oppressive. "Earthmover" is a similarly minded track that ends the entire collection on a beautifully monotone chord progression that unfolds over the last 4 minutes of the song. "Holy Fucking Sh
it: 40,000" ends on an inexorable industrial march that is only sated by the sweet and wistful acoustic guitar to emerges after the din subsides. "Who Would Leave Their Son Out in the Sun" is gorgeous and uses reverb to perfection. In fact the entire first disc, The Plow That Brokes the Plains
is perfect. There isn't one blemish and the disc is powerful, compelling, and moving. My only problems with this album lie in the weirder moments of the second disc, The Future
. The track, "The Future," is an upbeat pop romp that feels goofier than it does anthemic. The opening track, "Waiting for Black metal Records to Come in the Mail" gets sucked into a similar trap. The synthesized drums fail to galvanize me into bopping my head along to the upbeat chorus. If a few things were tweaked in those two tracks though I'd be loving the variety in pacing that they provide for the album. As it stands though, there is something off about their construction. However, these off-putting songs are completely redeemed by the closing two. "I Don't Love" takes the concept of the wall of sound to its most washed out extreme, yet has the elegance to feel more serene than anything else. The touching bassline that runs under the soundscape is the icing on the cake, providing most of the melodic content on the song. "Earthmover" as aforementioned is epic and beautiful.
People who normally read my reviews are probable surprised that I haven't really gone into detail about the technical proficiency of the rhythm guitar on the 2nd interlude of blah blah blah... Normally I get super microscopic and enjoy the minute details of a a guitar lick or a vocal quirk. On this album, I feel I wouldn't be able to sum up my feelings on the countless moments that make this album amazing. Deathconsciousness
has a dense, reverby wall of sound and a dense, lofty concept that is opaque and difficult to see through. Moments blend together and amble along for minutes at a time in the swirling mass of ideas that permeates this album. This album is the antithesis of one created by a band like Hot Cross. It is impenetrable and atmospheric, instead of tautly constructed and brittle. Deathconsciousness
is an album to be enjoyed on a long car drive or a pensive late night. I personally imagine myself when I was younger. In the winter, there would be storms that would put out the power. My mom would light candles in the dining room so that we could do homework or read on the distinctive, antique table that we had in there. I remember myself sitting there with a soft glow lighting the room as nobody spoke. I would listen to my battery-powered CD walkman, listening to the Deftones' White Pony
, being massively aware of the atmosphere of songs like "Knife Party" or "Digital Bath" blending in the the heaving of the storm against our house, the peculiar light of the candles, and the feeling of being in a room with my entire family. The atmosphere was a blend of music, light, sound, weather fronts, the breathing of people, the sounds of pencils scratching. When I listen to the fuzzed-out soundscapes found on Deathconsciousness
I get the sense of the recording of this album. History blends with concept, religion, analog and digital recording, vocals, sound effects, and the things listed in the 70+ page booklet: "an old toy piano Tim found," "a shi
tty keyboard from the 80s." I can't help but feel that I'm listening to an album that is perfectly intimate with itself and its environment, atmosphere, or aesthetic, and is well off because of it.