Album Review: Deathconsciousness (2008) by Have a Nice Life

“We’re playing music in a dead genre about believers in a dead religion. Who’s going to want to listen to that?” – Tim Macuga

Have a Nice Life is a post-punk band formed by Connecticut musicians Tim Macuga and Dan Barett in 2000. After eight years of inactivity, they released their first-ever full-length project, a double-lp called Deathconsciousness in 2008. There are very few albums that have dealt with the concept of death in a serious manner. David Bowie’s final album Blackstar comes to mind. An astonishing 42-minute album with Bowie’s own death as the subject matter. But Deathconsciousness differs from Bowie’s Blackstar in an important way. While Blackstar foreshadowed Bowie’s demise, Deathconsciousness serves as a preparation for death. It is an 84-minute long, relentless exercise in depression. This is quite evident from the opening track, “A Quick One before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut”. The track starts off with a hypnotic drone which is slowly swallowed by heavy reverb before, eventually fading away. The song perfectly captures the feeling of going to bed after a stressful day.  

Though Deathconsciousness was virtually unknown at the time of its release, it soon gained cult-following on 4chan’s /mu/ board. The album cover art depicting Jacques-Louis David’s “Death of Marat” began making the rounds online. Unlike most music albums, Deathconsciousness defies conventional genre tags. The album opener is more of an ambient sounding song, while the second track, “Blood hail” is layered with crashing guitars; extremely reminiscent of classic post-punk tracks. The track “Hunter” has a very shoegazy aesthetic to it. Hence, in retrospect, Deathconsciousness has been attached to the “gloom gaze” tag. The album’s influence cannot be denied as other bands such as Giles Cory and After Lives have embraced the gloom gaze aesthetic.

Deathconsciousness is an album which was born out of an intense sense of necessity. Both Dan and Tim have admitted to being depressed during the making of the album. Dan had lost his father and the insurance money was used for post-production. In fact, the whole album has a DIY aesthetic to it. For instance, take the best track on the album, “Holy ****ing Shit: 40000”. The song begins with a cheap piano preset and Barett strumming the guitar chords. The song is undeniably beautiful, as Dan sings about determinism; his voice drowned by heavy reverb. In fact, this is a constant theme throughout the album. The duo’s voices are always drowned out by the instrumentals. Halfway through “Holy ****ing Shit” though, all hell breaks loose. There is this amazing sense of primal energy; driven by fuzzed-out guitar lines. This section is a very refreshing throwback to perhaps one of the most influential new wave anthems, “Da Da Da” by Trio. The final section signifies acceptance, wherein Dan strums the guitar helplessly providing closure to the song. This compositional structure has inspired multiple post-rock songs, most notably, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s 2012 track “Mladic”. The track “The Future” seems like a sequel to Pere Ubu’s “Modern Dance”.

Like most great albums, Deathconsciousness’ post-production was a big challenge. Dan’s laptop had crashed during this time and the master files vanished. The final released version consisted of 128 Kb/s mp3 files. The deteriorated quality can be clearly heard in the sloppy bass line in the track “Waiting for Black Metal Records to come in the Mail”. But, instead of making the album a bumpy ride; it enhances the atmosphere. Most of the lyrical themes in the album are inspired by a 13th-century Roman preacher called Antiochus who formed a powerful, nihilistic cult. The Antiochean cult believed in “The Great Negation”, the belief that the balance of the universe is tilted in favour of death and destruction. The closing track “Earthmover” explores this viewpoint. The song describes the painful life of an immortal golem whose only purpose is to destroy. The song; initially beginning as an acid rock ballad, escalates into a shoegazy climax. The final bassline is a distorted drone note as Macuga apparently dropped his bass guitar because the emotive feeling of the song became too much to handle.

In 2014, Flenser records released a vinyl reprint of Deathconsciousness, ensuring that its legacy is secured. The album has been the subject of many books and thesis dissertations. The Antiochean cult might be dead, but Deathconsciousness is not.                 

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Banagiri Shrikar

Hate playing truth or dare coz they always dare me to go home

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