Review Summary: Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
Whether or not the proclamations by hyperzealous My Bloody Valentine acolytes that the timeless Loveless
both began and ended the shoegaze era are to be believed, the album’s aftershocks sent a surge through music; restless tides of distortion, fuzz, and lo-fi decadence washed over everything, gripping anyone with an ear to the ground and scraping bedrock as it pulled the music world into its hazy brine. In the following decades, hundreds of groups partook in the raucous crusade, including Have A Nice Life, a Connecticut two-piece who on their debut double album – a move previously reserved for cocksure acts in the purported primes of their careers – reveled as much in the image of shoegaze as they did in the forms of black metal, drone, and a smorgasbord of post-everything
. It was a versatile, elegant pastiche that danced between static noise and gentle plucks with balletic poise and somber precision, and the album came out a kaleidoscopic amalgam of their influences, a modern day classic. Detractors chided the group for harping excessively on overwrought themes and indulging in the meager production value they so warmly embraced, but the hopeless muckraking proved unfruitful as hype built slowly and surely for a sophomore effort. Nothing shy of six years later, the aforementioned follow-up is every bit as powerful and moody as its predecessor, and answers the band’s critics with more cohesive, elegant songwriting.
Armed with the distinction of most apropos cover of the century, The Unnatural World
is the opera of downtrodden vagrants who twirl haplessly in a nauseating dance of bleak, heavy-hearted disquiet; it’s the devastating sound of unabating gray. Where Deathconsciousness
was occasionally punctuated with glints of mercurial beauty, its bitter brother is engulfed in boisterous, ashy noise for much of its comparatively terse 48 minute runtime. Enemies List loyalists might find some familiar tracks here (“Guggenheim”, “Defenestration Song”, “Cropsey”), but they’ve been interpolated so seamlessly into the album that it’s almost as if The Unnatural World
is indeed an album of all new material, written and recorded in a single session. “Defenestration Song,” simultaneously a mess of post-punk, power guitars, and addictive, staticky sing-alongs (shout-alongs?) rolls nimbly into “Burial Society,” where as dense sirens clamor, the air thins until the listener is locked in a dusty vacuum, coexisting only with white noise and Dan Barrett’s tortured screams of “cut my wrists, slit my throat, take this body – string it up”. But while Have A Nice Life can effortlessly invoke the pressing of Giles Corey through their suffocating music, don’t mistake my liberal use of ‘noise’ to mean ‘pitiless cataclysms of sound’ – this isn’t a crust punk album after all – the twosome are still intensely proficient at weaving beauty and bliss into their grand canvases of tumult: “Music Will Unntune the Sky” sees seismic layers of distortion rage, only to be calmed by a euphony of choral “ahhhhh”s and vapors of what seem to be bagpipes, while “Cropsey”, the album’s centerpiece epic is a slow burner, sporting the group’s famous post-rock aesthetic. The album is 8 tracks of highlights, but nothing burns more feverishly than the hypnotic “Emptiness Will Eat the Witches,” perhaps the most paralyzing album closer since “Earthmover”. It’s the pitter-patter of a simple yet entrancing sequence of sparse, graceful guitar notes that pulsates gently throughout the track, occasionally disappearing in a wash of piercing organs and a discordant chorale, only to reprise once the wall of noise abates, breathing delicate, wintry patterns on the now-settled soil until the album fades out. Like the album it constitutes, it’s rarely illuminated, yet beautifully moving and unquestionably engrossing. If The Unnatural World
is the benchmark for powerful, gorgeous music in 2014 (and it is), we’re in for a great year.