Back in 2008, Dan Barrett’s name became synonymous with viral marketing as his absurd levels of self-promotion had finally convinced the dwellers of 4chan and Reddit to listen to his band Have a Nice Life’s debut album Deathconsciousness. To the surprise of many, Barrett was not just another voice pleading for attention and fifteen minutes of Internet fame through listens on a SoundCloud account. Deathconsciousness went on to impress the likes of Sputnik Music and independent critic Piero Scarufi, who hailed the dark aesthetics and hopeless of atmosphere of a record that went on to become a cult classic. Since then, Have a Nice Life became relatively dormant with its two key members pursuing plenty of other projects, such as Dan Barrett’s well-received and predominantly acoustic LP recorded under the stage name Giles Corey. The cult following had seemingly diminished, with mentions of the original Have a Nice Life album appearing sparsely on critics’ best-of-the-2000s lists and so on. However, 2014 brings fans a follow-up to Deathconsciousness in Have a Nice Life’s latest effort, the Unnatural World.
Arguably the best facet of this record, as well as the band in general, is the listener’s inability to pin them to a single genre. The thick and churning bass riffs mingled with the static and blaring noise of the track “Defenestration Song” would not find itself too out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record, whereas the slow-moving walls of guitar sound on “Music Will Untune the Sky” initially suggest Sunn O))), only to layer it with a number of harmonized vocal tracks that would make Justin Vernon of Bon Iver proud. “Cropsey” starts with a sample of a child being interviewed about his life at school over a melancholy piano melody, and then crescendos into a triple forte explosion keeping the same piano motif intact, but features both Barrett’s somber baritone mixing itself into walls of static and noise, like a demonized version of post-rock giants Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Tortoise.
The Unnatural World finds Have a Nice Life progressing from the band’s obsession with misery found on Deathconsciousness and focusing more on obtaining a strict command of noise. While the Joy Division-esque bass riffs that appear on “Defenestration Song” and “Unholy Life” are an excellent ode to Have a Nife Life’s influences, the majority of the album has an incredible degree of precision in how the tones of static and walls of noise are implemented. The keyboard bleeps and static fuzzes that occur a little more than halfway through “Dan and Tim, Reunited by Fate” give the impression that arranging just when they would start and end was done meticulously to enforce a climax in the song’s bare-bones post-punk structure. This idea is then added onto with reverb-drenched guitars that are reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or Saturday Night Wrist-era Deftones, proving that a goal of mastering noise has been achieved, the song ending with shoegaze meeting noise rock. “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch,” the album’s mellow closer, utilizes a keyboard drone and clean guitar to invoke feelings of tranquility before a sea of voices swallows the listener in a gorgeously executed harmony. The voices fade, taking the listener back to the initial drone the song started on.
With this new record, Have a Nice Life have proved themselves as talented musicians capable of blending an extremely wide array of sounds into one uniquely their own. Plenty of other recent cross-genre acts, such as the Deftones and Alcest have a penchant for mixing genres such as punk and shoegaze together, but what initially separated Have a Nice Life was their ability to make their cross-genre experiments sonically unique. What will keep this band going strong is their ability to move forward, with their despondent aura evolving as Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga continually evolve as musicians and arrangers.
Jeffrey Holmes is a second-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at JH791223@wcupa.edu.