Switching one’s brain for different genres of music is a harrowing task, increasingly so when analyzing it. When your taste exists almost solely in one corner of the ring, the others seem foreign, challenging, and often inferior. This elitist subculture in music is rampant online, with the various metal subgenres often being involved in the discussion.
Have A Nice Life is a non-metal band that I have grown to love, but in an unconventional way. After delving through online communities in search of the most highly regarded and well-crafted albums ever, Deathconscioussness, the Connecticut-based experimental rock duo’s 2008 debut album, kept coming up. After listening to one of the members depressive singer-songwriter solo projects an excessive amount (Dan Barrett’s Giles Corey), I eventually decided to find out what all the hype was about regarding Have A Nice Life.
While I will not be reviewing the monolithic masterpiece of a double album that is Deathconsciousness, or its more-than-adequate successor, 2014’s The Unnatural World, it is important to note the sonic and physical progressions the band has taken over the course of their almost 20 year existence.
Deathconsciousness is a lengthy and challenging listen that tests the patience of many, but rewards those who can withstand its melancholic and repetitive use of synthesizer loops and disheveled production to uncover a difficult hour and thirty minutes dedicated to depression and the inescapable spinning wheel of time. Post-punk tracks like “Bloodhail,” “Waiting For Black Metal Records To Come In The Mail” and “Deep, Deep” act as hooky guitar driven bangers nearly groovy enough to dance to, where more shoegaze and post-rock influenced songs like “The Big Gloom,” “Hunter” and “I Don’t Love” slam you with a wall of despondent noise that are sure to make you turn your head downward and think about your own reality.
The Unnatural World felt like a stripped down and simplified version of their first release, echoing similar songwriting sentiments throughout, while also interweaving the contrasting rhythm and atmosphere portrayed on Deathconsciousness. After a six-year gap, fans were not disappointed with the album, and although in my eyes, not as iconic, The Unnatural World was a fit addition to the HANL catalog.
Five years go by and now we have Sea of Worry. This two-piece’s previous albums had enough of a profound effect on me that this release eclipsed new music by both British veteran funeral doom legends Esoteric and Swiss avant-garde black metallers Schammasch, groups I have listened to for years (Note: Both A Pyrrhic Existence (Esoteric) and Hearts of No Light (Schammasch) are great releases that you should listen to!). Something about HANL’s mix of goth-rock/post-punk/shoegaze/drone resonates with me in a strangely cathartic way, and I knew from the moment I started listening to this new album, something was different.
And the internet knew so too.
Reading some opinions from die-hard fans across the world had me discouraged. Those who had received access to the album before myself claimed that it sucked. Uninventive, neutered, derivative and tedious are not used when positively voicing your opinion on anything, especially not music. So, when I pressed play at 12:01 on November 8th, I was excited but cautious.
From the get-go, this is neither of their previous albums. Sea of Worry is arguably the weakest of the groups three releases, but by a small margin. While The Unnatural World just surpasses it in my eyes, and Deathconsciousness leaps and bounds above both, this album is still great. Like its oldest brother, it cleanly separates the post-punk and shoegaze/drone tracks but in turn isn’t afraid to go all out on those songs to compensate. “Sea of Worry,” “Dracula Bells” and “Trespassers W” crave to be grooved to, whether it’s a subtle head sway or full-on dancing. “Science Beat,” “Everything We Forget” and “Lords of Tresserhorn” are emotive and somber tracks that leave a deep sense of longing that dig into your feelings.
Post-punk is based almost solely on loops, and Have A Nice Life are no strangers to upholding and reinventing this tenant of songwriting. The guitar riffs and melodies provide almost a meditative state, until they crunch with noise and return you to the oddly unsettling vibe permeating the entire record. “Lords of Tresserhorn” is a highlight track, with its curious piano melody providing an eerie backdrop to Tim Macuga’s chunky guitar tone and hypnotic sung vocals by Barrett which steal the track and escalate it to a noisy climax extremely reminiscent of “Earthmover” and “Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000” from Deathconsciousness.
13-minute closing track “Destinos” is haunting and addictive, and interestingly begins with a distressing sample of a pastor describing the philosophical problem of hell, in which the existence of hell is a stark inconsistency in the image of a truly benevolent God. While the Lord has appeared many times in Have A Nice Life’s music, “Destinos” stands as the most blatant example, to its advantage. Barrett outlined the production of the song on his blog, starting even as far back as 2006, stating:
“For a song about my typical agoraphobic anti-social bullshit, it sounds a lot like dead people waking up under the ground and trying to claw their way out to set the cemetery on fire. That, and it routinely breaks my computer because it involves about 1400 tracks of audio and is 11 minutes long.”
He explains later in the post that the song shows it doesn’t matter what you want, because after you are dead, all your creativity and effort is put into the hands of some other force, which can use it in whatever way they please. This afterlife, however, is less frightening than knowing this while still alive, which is what this album is all about.
Sea of Worry is starkly different than its predecessors, as its sheen production and more accessible sound is indicative of the band’s growing audience, but one thing will always remain poignant and powerful with the group: Barrett’s nihilistic and defeatist lyrics. While not accompanied with a 70-page booklet outlining Antiochean history like their first album, this album’s lyrics are still as depressing and intriguing as they have been and will most likely remain for the band’s foreseeable future.
This is not the album I was expecting Barrett and Macuga to make as a follow-up to The Unnatural World. Before the three singles were released, I expected a noisy, shoegazing drone album that would probably bore me into listening solely to their first two releases.
But that reality is so far from the result.
This band’s music is not for everyone. I know many who think most of the group’s material is too boring and bloated. But fear not, Sea of Worry is a catchy and refreshing take on the Have A Nice Life formula, and while it may feel to simplified and cleanly produced for the veteran group, it still provides engaging and emotive songwriting that challenges the listener’s opinion on this band, as well as cementing Barrett and Macuga as forces to be reckoned with in the ever-growing post-punk landscape.
Final Score: “We’re machines that breathe and weep and look really good.”
Favorite Tracks: Science Beat, Lords of Tresserhorn, Dracula Bells.