On a certain level all record “discoveries” are surprises. That is, there’s always an element of “Oh, cool. This was a nice thing to find.” However, very rarely does a record seem to find you. Or, at least, very seldom does one seem to find me. I troll through an average of 20+ new releases a week and listen in on even more via things like PureVolume and MySpace. Often, I’m pleasantly surprised by the amount of decent quality stuff being produced. Even so, I’m rarely so blown away to the degree that I feel as if the entire paradigm of what I’m always seeking (i.e. exciting, invigorating, thoughtful albums and bands) has shifted toward a single new band.
This week that happened.
From Middletown, CT comes the duo Have A Nice Life. Although loosely related to poppy-hardcore band In Pieces, Have A Nice Life shares nothing with them other than a member. Indeed, they seem to have come out of virtually nowhere. They are, as I like to say, a complete package; a total concept. And “concept” probably is too easy a term to apply to HANL considering that their newly released, debut album, Deathconsciousness, consists of two separate CDs and an 80-page book (Deathconciousness: On An Obscure Text) dealing with 12th century apostasies, religious symbolism and the ancient Christian sect of Antiochians. Of the record, the band simply says, “Deathconsciousness is the concept that lies at the heart of the record itself: the overwhelming awareness, at all times, of death and it’s proximity.” Perhaps this record found me because I am currently in my own state of apostasy. Or maybe that’s simply why I have reacted to it the way I have.
And with that one would think, having not heard them, that this is either all an elaborate joke, an obsession run amok or a high-minded concept who’s music couldn’t possibly carry the gravity of the sentiment. The first two may be true (although I doubt it) but the third is utterly false. The heaviness of Deathconciousness is not simply embodied by the music but by the marriage of music and concept. Although the music can stand alone as a fine accomplishment, it’s the concept and the bands dedication to it that have made it, within the space of 3 days, essential. If the music couldn’t carry it I wouldn’t have written this much in the first place.
Divided into two parts, the first disc The Plow That Broke The Plains and the second titled The Future, this is an album that can only ever be enjoyed at a very personal level. That is, it speaks to the listener at such close range that two people sitting in the same room listening would hear two different things. As a personal journey it’s simultaneously oppressive and liberating; as a shared experience it’s most likely divisive.
Working from a musical palette that utilizes spacious guitar chimes, heavy bass riffs, strings, doubly-echoed vocals and organic/industrial drums obvious touchstones could include 17 Seconds/Faith/Pornography-era Cure, Coil, Current 93, Swans and Death In June. It feels incorrect, though, to cite these as “influences”, although they may have certainly played some educational role for HANL. It seems more correct to describe HANL as fellow speakers of the language established by the acts listed. HANL seem neither students nor prophets but, rather, a welcome continuation of a theme, mood and aesthetic. Beyond using the same tools, HANL shares another device with them: nothing on Deathconciousness arrives easily. Although there are places throughout the record that teem with danceable, instantly-grabbing rhythms and melodies the listener must work for them. They are buried within the tracks.
For example, “Hunter” mines through a full 6 minutes and 12 seconds of minimal exclamation before taking almost 3 minutes more to work itself into a beautiful, nearly overwhelming, chill-giving crescendo. Similarly, the closest thing on here to a “single” comes from the second disk and is titled “Waiting For Black Metal Records To Come In The Mail” and it requires the listener to patiently hear almost a minute and 25 seconds before delivering its heavy bass throb, vocal and drum attack.
From the above descriptions it would be reasonable, having not heard them, to assume HANL is taking the piss and have made an intentionally difficult record. True, it’s not an easy record. It makes many demands. First, Deathconciousness requires listening to both discs all the way through. Second, it requires the listeners attention. Simply put, if you’re not going to go all the way don’t take the first step. However, if you do make the jump the chances are great that when you come up for air you’ll be exhilarated, exhausted and inspired. I certainly was. And am.
Significantly, there’s nothing about Deathconciousness that requires buying to a myth, either a religious one which you may or may not already believe, or one about the band itself. Indeed, it would be a supreme irony if HANL were to become a “cult” band or the album a cult fetish. Cult movements, be they artistic or religious in nature, are universally cemented with a single, unshakable cornerstone: they must have a core of true believers. And being a true believer is not the theme of Deathconciousness. The listener must pay attention but he will also wrestle with it; he must put in the time but his reward is singular. That is, the album is personal such that it’s quite difficult for me to imagine two people being able to discuss it as if they’ve shared the same experience. As opposed to a cult, the listener turns his attention inward and, as a result, there is no clear object of affection; nothing telling or leading.
Which is why this album has been so damn hard to write about.
It’s one thing to simply describe what an album sounds like. It’s another to attempt to place it within a larger cultural context. However, the hardest records to write about are the one that have changed something about you, either internally or one’s viewpoint. It might be a stretch to say my life was changed by this record but, in no small way, my viewpoint has shifted. As stated before, the paradigm is different. Have A Nice Life has produced a record of truly epic proportions, both musically and thematically, and thus become, perhaps unwittingly, a new standard bearer for what can be accomplished with two people working independently. It remains to be seen whether I’ll unjustly judge other bands by this accomplishment or sit on my hands waiting for another experience like this one. All I can really say at this point is that I was waiting for this record for a very long time and didn’t even know it.
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Go check out the label’s website HERE.