Six years ago, Have A Nice Life brought out the album that would eventually garner cult status and bring them to popularity, Deathconsciousness. It’s a pretty epic work; an 80 minute titan of crushing Post-Punk and Shoegaze, but almost satirical in its presentation as it took casual swipes at the ridiculous nature of our society. It’s not something I’ve come back to often, I must admit. It’s a rather expansive album that I really have to be in the mood for, so it’s convenient that not only have Dan and Tim refined their sound and focus on their eventual followup, but they’ve also made it nicely bitesized at around 50 minutes.
That’s not to say this album doesn’t still have scale though; opener “Guggenheim Wax Museum” spends its first minute languishing in quiet, distal, faded drones before blaring into view with something that could sound like a battered organ or some guitar deeply ensconced in a processed fuzz. It crawls along menacingly really, Dan slowly and carefully laying out barely audible words to match the funerial march of the drums before it climaxes in an abrasive wailing myriad of textures that slowly fade to nothing. Popular pre-release single “Defenestration Song” is a bit more committed and kicks up the pace a notch with growling guitar riffs and a stark drum line. The vocals are similarly more direct, cutting through the Post-Punk instrumentation with a distinctly hollow sound to them, a certain emptiness as Dan sings about the nature of life, shivering as he contemplates aging: “There’s nothing I can do to make it stop” he sings painfully, the track’s length and claustrophobic sound doubling this feeling down.
But there’s also a slower and more beauteous side to the album, as evidenced in “Burial Society”, which at first rolls along slowly rather like a Giles Corey (Dan’s side project) piece in the expansive piano strokes and lush, smeared guitars collapsing the pace. But it has its own internal crescendo; whilst Dan’s voice never really raises itself it’s obvious he’s shouting, practically screaming towards the track’s midpoint climax:
“Cut my wrists, slit my throat,
take this body and string it up.”
he wails angrily, followed only by the empathetic instrumentation of thick guitar drones in its haunting closing minutes. It segues effortlessly into the monolithic “Music Will Untune The Sky”, dominated solely by these heavy-bass generating flushes of slow guitar chords that are just suspended in this empty, nostalgic void alongside somewhat more refreshing although in no way lightening vocal wails. “I am sorry, lord” is barely heard, sung slowly and carefully in the final throes of the track, loud and slow and impassioned.
“Cropsey” once more sounds like a Giles Corey throwback in its opening sequence as it plays back recordings of a child being interviewed by doctors following rescue from an abusive mental hospital. It’s a chilling introduction that begins to loop and fold in on itself, drowning in increasing levels of processing until it’s nothing but a chilling smudge of memory and the music starts proper. I’m not as big a fan of this particular track though, it just doesnt sit right; I don’t like the syncopation of the drums and guitar. But “Unholy Life” arrives next, my favourite track of the album, and also the shortest. It comes in on a wave of deceptive drone before the surprisingly clear guitar kicks into groove and riffs hard, setting an insatiable pace with the drums. The vocals are particularly enigmatic, as well as unusually incomprehensible:
“It’s in the air, you know you see it.
They’re spinning there, that’s how they fucking get around.”
He sings, practically screaming, through the thick and heady rush of Shoegazing noise. It’s such a bold track, the rapid pace change is a welcome respite as we move towards the album’s end.
“Dan and Tim Reunited By Fate” rolls into view as the penultimate track of the album, a stuttering, roaring, incomprehensible mass of instrumentation and blurred vocal lines that ebbs and flows across its sweeping 5 minute timespan that, like many of the other tracks, begins to fall apart and lose steam in its latter moments once the sung portion falls by the wayside. Only the sparse drums and omnipresent drone-fuzz remain as they see the track to its depressing, lonely completion. Which finally brings haunting closer “Emptiness Will Eat The Witch” to the fore. Thin, brooding organ drone loops slowly, suspending in a glittering darkness, eventually assisted by equally measured guitar chords and infrequently spoken words. It ekes itself out slowly, evocatively, until the haunting words “you are no one” are spoken, whereby they become oft-repeated and heavily processed, lots of Dans wailing over one another in an artificially induced drone carried by a thick backing bass note. It’s startlingly evocative and haunting, a powerful note to finish the album on.
The Unnatural World is part empowered Post-Punk/Shoegaze, and part introspective Drone/Lo-Fi, and the balance is tight and delicate. Much of it is depressing, often speaking on the futility of life but with a strong, lingering fear of death. I’ve listened to this album a lot and while I do really enjoy most, if not all, of it, it still feels deeply impenetrable for me in parts, like there’s some degree of separation in my understanding of it, some lack of empathy due to my not knowing or having experienced. Which only, in a way, seems to make it more interesting.