Review Summary: his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one
After finishing the A-side, or first four songs, of Sea of Worry, you’d be forgiven for fearing said worry had harnessed a tropical low and become cyclonic with you stranded at the keel. Having dispensed with the prototype on which they made their name, it challenges not just what we expect from Have a Nice Life but also one’s patience; the lo-fi replaced, the (slightly pat) interweaving of periods of American history to best focalise suicidal ideation and emotional discomfort comfortably put aside, a result so bleakly mediocre that it questions whether deathconsciousness and the unnatural world were *genuinely* great or a product of exceptional luck. It’s not the historical flourishes I miss – while sometimes effective, generally I considered them as corny as Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, southern Michigan, western Ohio, eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, southern Minnesota, and parts of Missouri, along with Twin Peaks [§ Wikipedia], and just to evidence that I feel they’re at their strongest when the lyrics are direct, obvious and unmistakably powerful, a la I Don’t Love and Defenestration Song – but the lo-fi Midas touch the album eschews.
Perhaps I’m being unfair: the album does project itself into the past, but by a decade and a half, when the post punk revival and concomitant snaky guitar lines ruled the court, to the extent that Sea of Worry becomes something I never thought I’d label Have a Nice Life: predictable. I literally groaned at one particularly glaring example during Science Beat. At the three minute-mark: a post-punk build-up that is meant to end in an explosion of catharsis, and maybe it would was I not familiar with the meta-narrative and structure of these songs, hearing every newly-introduced note and vocal line in my head long before they were played or sung, the equivalent of a tired intimacy of finishing someone’s sentence. The first song, Sea of Worry, similarly, is almost a platonic ideal of the genre, fitting far too neatly in the Joy Division mould; Dracula Bells at least attempts to add some gothic charm (Dracula is gothic my dudes!!! Two cheers for our erudition!!!) but comes off as forced bordering on camp. By the time Trespassers W (either an unworthy tribute to the band Trespassers William or Winnie the Pooh, a quote from which heads the review) finishes, having actively squandered the best guitar line on the record by confusing dynamics with dynamic and repeating it incessantly at an increasingly strident volume in perfect fidelityTM in lieu of any better ideas, one feels that this was 20 minutes better spent knitting.
The last three tracks, then, are tasked with overcoming the weight of intrusively pristine chimes and trite predictability.
Miraculously, they kinda do.
Everything We Forgot is a gorgeous, commanding drone, interspersed cleverly with an elegant un-tuned piano riff, genuinely haunting and signifying the second half of the album’s intent immediately: namely that it bears no relation with any of the songs preceding it. Lords of Tresserhorn, the albums highlight for my money, paces itself perfectly as a snarl of menace building up into a howl of shoeglazed noise. Though the spoken word “sermon” (of the fire and brimstone variety, naturally) of Destinos will be off-putting due to duration, it sets up something phenomenal: the spectral vocals, industrial drums and guitars of yore are back, but adapted to a high-fi setting so perfectly it begs the question: why doesn’t the rest of the album sound like this?
Rarely has an album so neatly cleaved itself in two, precisely down the middle. The problem: is the catharsis of the second half a response to frustrations borne by the first? Rarely do two entirely different bands show up on one record to the magnitude of a dichotomy: one fervently clinging to the ledge of post-punk touchstones and tropes, and one willing, eager, to plunge. Have a Nice Life prove they are not defined by their conceits: exasperatingly, it takes them half an album to prove it.