Deathconsciousness is the debut album from Have a Nice Life, and it’s my favorite album of all time. There’s so much I can say about this I’m not sure where to start. I think what makes something your favorite of all time isn’t just that you love it, it’s that it grew with you- there’s an absolutely necessary sense of time that your favorite needs to have. Through many periods in my life, up and down – this album has been a constant for me, something I can always come back to and delve into again to find something I hadn’t before. On to what it actually sounds like – the two most defining aspects of this album are it’s lo-fi production, and bleak and apocalyptic atmosphere. The album was recorded from a laptop microphone and high quality masters of it were erased in a tragic hard drive failure. What’s left is a 128kbs recording that someone had uploaded to a torrent site – it goes without saying that this album’s production is the furthest from ‘smooth’ you could possibly get. The atmosphere is absolutely choking, they fill the air with deep and heavy noise (most often distortion and feedback) and do not let up at all. Deathconsciousness blends Post-Punk, Post-Rock, Post-Rock, Doom, Shoegaze, and other genres to create something entirely unique.
Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga are the masterminds behind this album, and this album is their collaboration they’ve cultivated over 5 years to make. For the most part Barrett sings and plays the guitars while Macuga brings the backup vocals and bass guitar. They both make heavy use of electronics and it gets tricky when you try to pin down who did what on this album, or which idea was whose. Their sound is so massive that I was surprised to find that it came from just two musicians, and was even more surprised when I learned the drums were added via machine. Lyrically and thematically, this album varies, but several ideas are common threads. There’s the doom of mankind, the death of God, machines that kill everything in their wake, dealing with loss, world-ending golems, and suicidal depression. There’s also a companion piece that comes with the album, a nearly 100 page booklet detailing/explaining some of the references on the album, much about the ‘hunter’ and his efforts to slay God.
They open the first album (The Plow That Broke The Plains) with A Quick One Before The Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut, a humorous title for an absolute dream of a song. I can’t help but feel like I’m floating away, more and more of my preoccupations are disappearing as the guitar loops again. In the height of your trance, right when you’re about to drift off, you’re smacked in the face with Bloodhail‘s glorious bass line. That snap to reality is one of my favorite musical moments, and Bloodhail is an absolute blinder of a song. This is the first reference to the ‘hunter’, detailing the human-stair that he climbs to shoot countless arrows at God to kill him. The chanting of “arrowheads arrowheads arrowheads arrowheads” becomes one of the most memorable parts of this double album. The Big Gloom follows that up with fuzzy Shoegaze guitars that explode into a mountain of sound when the echoing drums come in. Lyrically it references the subject of the album’s cover art – Jean-Paul Marat, but it is much more personal than that, perfectly relating that desperation and wish for death that comes with suicidal depression. This is one of the closer songs to Dan Barrett’s heart, given his battles with depression that are detailed more on his solo project Giles Corey. The song ends with a slow and simple bass line and a plaintive guitar chirping in response, and it’s forever been haunting me since.
Hunter is another song about the story of God’s death, this time sung from the perspective of God himself. The echoing drums are just genius here, it compliments the song perfectly, sounding like some otherworldly distant thunderstorm. Just when you think the song is over it explodes with new vigor, as Barrett echoes out “we’ve done so much to deserve it”. There is No Food ends the first album with an atmospheric instrumental track, packed to the gills with echo and feedback. The entrance of the guitars is just absolutely massive, an earth shattering bass crashes in and takes over. The distant and unintelligible vocal samples remind me a lot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
The second LP titled The Future begins with Waiting For Black Metal Records To Come in The Mail, another humorous title for a completely dour song. It’s probably their most Post-Punk feeling song, with simple and repetitive guitar licks and drum beats. Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000 opens bizarrely with a Casio piano sample beat but somehow feel completely natural throughout the song. It’s a nihilistic song that heavily references Terminator, and soon enough it explodes into a noisy, rough, overwhelming marching beat. The title track The Future sums up their hope for the future – completely bleak and heartless. Similarly to the opening two tracks, you’re slapped in the face again with Deep, Deep‘s explosive drums and aggressive bass line. The synths coming in during the chorus is just another moment in Deathconsciousness that gives me shivers every time, especially the lines “Jesus Christ why is love so lonely?” between the nuclear Armageddon inspired verses.
I Don’t Love is one of the most depressing songs on the album, which is really saying a lot. The pairing of the extreme noise (nearly drowning out the drums and Barrett’s howling voice) and simple lyrics is a powerful combination, and you just feel beat down again and again as it’s drilled into your head:
“I don’t love
I don’t feel anything
I don’t feel anything where this love should be”
The closer Earthmover is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and certainly the best album closer. It starts out simple enough, just a relatively clean guitar and Dan Barrett’s singing to introduce the golems that suck up all reality, leaving only dust. Once again there’s an explosion of noise as the ‘Have A Nice Life’ sound barrels into the room, taking over everything. What’s new this time is the inclusion of a piano, playing just four notes every other bar. This has such a huge effect but for the first time listener they might not be aware of it just yet. The repetition of “More than a symbol / More than I bargained for” has kept that phrase in my head for years, and I’ve been digesting it since. The song cools down back to the pace of the intro as Dan leads up to the immortal lines that the golems say after all this destruction – “We wish we were dead”. The four piano notes are resurrected, and what follows is an indescribable torrent of noise that has never failed to give me chills. That piano continues through the apocalypse, is it the sound of hope? Or the sound of humanity’s beauty being crushed by the inevitable? The sound of heaven coming down to deliver or destroy? The barrage just does not stop, and I feel like this song has come the closest to recording what the end of the world will feel like. It’s horrifying, disturbing, haunting, caustic and abrasive.. but also beautiful and glorious in some strange way. The band plays ad nauseum before Tim Macuga slams his bass down on the ground for a final earth-shattering drop before it finally ends.
This is an obvious recommendation to everyone, and one that demands to be listened through multiple times. It did take me a few times before it clicked, with Bloodhail‘s infectious bassline keeping me coming back to explore the album once more. It’s truly a masterpiece and one I wish to share with everyone. It of course can’t connect with everyone, but given the cult following this album has had, it seems the people it does click with have found something special. Have A Nice Life wouldn’t release another album for 6 years before they followed it up with The Unnatural World (2014). How could you possibly follow up the apocalypse? Somehow they did the impossible and made something with a different focus that doesn’t just repeat the same ideas or try to continue on the ‘end of the world’. Saying that though there are some similarities in the structure of the album, almost a reverse mirror of Deathconsciousness, but this can all wait for a different review. That album was also a masterpiece and cemented in my mind that this is my favorite band, and has been since.