Inherently in the realm of music criticism, two issues will always become extremely evident in most reviews. One, the writer will most likely alter his opinions based on other reviews: a record like My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" may have never gained as much press as it has recently if some reviewer hadn't commented on Kevin Shields' ridiculous spending budget, or the fact that the group supposedly perfectly defined and destroyed the "shoegaze" genre. In my opinion, vast generalizations that are linked through the mainstream and underground music communities towards records are usually just bullshit. In just examining 2008's releases so far, Protest the Hero's "Fortress" has been heralded a classic almost unanimously amongst seventeen year old boys who probably spend more time playing Call of Duty 4 than they do artistically appreciating records for doing nothing but creatively combining a bunch of other band's ideas into an hour long "epic". I am not going to say this is a negative thing, I believe everyone is allowed to gauge what is important to them. But, when someone whose tastes consist of solely groups representing what I believe to be the downfall of modern music starts referencing a band I fawn over, like say, Off Minor, it does make me question my own legitimacy. In turn this questioning leads me to be less forthcoming with the bands that I feel are amazing. I originally said there are two issues every music critic has to deal with and while vast generalizations based on other reviews is a large one, the other is related to the point I just made. Lots of critics will praise albums that very little of the public knows solely for that reason. It makes sense, critics are constantly reading reviews that spew praise all over records that have "changed lives" and "impacted people emotionally more than anything", so why would they not copy that attitude and apply it to what they have found? I guess at this time I'll get a little personal and say why I am discussing this.
As a "music critic" myself I often find myself attempting to publicize records that I feel are cutting edge, provoking, and most of all emotional expressions. In almost every one of my reviews, I reference these ideas. If anyone talks to me about music it is clear to them that I am not one for stoic records. So, when I see fans of a band like Protest the Hero latching on to records that I feel like I have helped bring to the masses it bothers me. In a sense, it makes me want to stop reviewing. Because, it cheapens these records I've pined for over for days, weeks, months, years to understand. I was literally counting down the hours today to get home and listen to the record that this review covers, because it is already that special to me. It hurts when people declare something like Kayo Dot unworthy or if someone with a negative persona latches on to a group like Converge, because then I challenge my own conception of those records. In summary of those feelings, I suppose it comes down to the fact that we all must live with our own opinions on things and therefore just be happy that we've created such beautiful relationships with the art in our lives. Music criticism then becomes utterly useless and most of what I talk about is inane, but maybe someone will feel these reactions and in turn, go out and find their own, "Deathconsciousness". Maybe then I can feel like this review proved a point, as music in my eyes isn't about mass consumption, but rather establishing special relationships with those things that reflect something new, something provoking, something emotional, and most of all something real. As an example, I present Have a Nice Life's "Deathconsciousness".
"Deathconsciousness" is probably a perfect record. At the time of this review, I haven't really had enough time to digest it to declare it that, but I can't really think of any way for it to be better. The production, the tones, the chord choices, the vocals, the lyrics, the concepts, everything is stunningly brilliant and just laughably remarkable. If needed to provide examples, I could do it for every track. The slow and steady build that is "Bloodhail" tossing its way between a propulsive Joy Division-esque rhythm section and beautiful dual vocals, the drums that kick in and take "The Big Gloom" to a whole different spectrum of gorgeousness than the tracks preceding it even hinted at; there are so many great moments on this record I could talk about them for days. Well, I'm obviously getting ahead of myself. Have a Nice Life "is, was, and always will be Dan and Tim" as their myspace states and "Deathconsciousness" is essentially their five year discography, a dual-disc debut album that deals with a variety of concepts relating to religion, death and theories attached to those two ideas. Intensely personal in delivery, this is a record that is basically a collaboration of ideas ranging from industrial to post-punk to post-rock. A common thread would be Canada's patron saints of avant-doom Nadja, but even that duo don't possess the massive love of the melodic that Have a Nice Life demonstrates all over their debut. Tracks like "Hunter" show the group's massive devotion to their specific style of eighties soundscapes, but also echo with an earnestness that can only be related to the group's supposed leader Dan Barrett's punk-laden past, as he formerly did time in the relatively obscure post-hardcore group In Pieces. If anything, Have a Nice Life can be described as the perfect example of the suffix "post" in regards to all of the music that has come out in the indie circuit since 1980. It is taking all of the concepts that have made underground music what it is and strangling them in such a way that it creates something of a reminder of what progression actually means.
Impact-wise, an album hasn't hit me this hard since I heard Kayo Dot's "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" in late 2005. Not to say that there is any common thread between the two bands; Kayo Dot's massive shifts of grandiose proportion do not inspire any of the moments on "Deathconsciousness" in the slightest. This is an album that deals in minimal composition, and the expression of moods. It shifts and moves in the way one would expect someone's life to, and while the acoustic, solemn tracks like "Who Would Leave Their Son Out in the Sun?" are not extremely provoking conceptually, they just feel so natural that they can't be faulted. Continuing with the description of this being life-like, there are clear attempts at creating extremely energetic yet mood-based music on disc two of the record entitled "The Future". The track of the same name and "Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail" are prime examples of songs that shift between guitar parts that resemble Fugazi and Ride and melodies that wouldn't sound out of place on the next Killers record. Obviously, those namedrops make the second disc sound like shit, but it is the perfect counterpoint to the obviously atmospheric first disc which is heavily drawn-out compositions that rely on slow blossoming into beautiful climaxes, "A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticutt" being a key example.
To dive further into the relations between both discs, there is a steady sense of progression that follows its way through the entire record, beginning with the acoustic-laden intro of disc one and ending with the epic closure of disc two. The album in its entirety only clocks in at an easy hour and twenty five minutes, but in reality feels like it could go on for eternity. The songs never feel long and when one does continue for more than five minutes it is usually for good reason, which is more to say than a lot of bands that are playing this particular facet of "drone" music. Have a Nice Life know their limits, and they know what works and that is why "Deathconsciousness" succeeds.
So, what does or did "Deathconsciousness" teach me? Is it that records simply can surprise me or that when critical acclaim isn't applied that I have to clearly generate some to overstuff an average album? Is it that Have a Nice Life is a complete emotional replica of my current situation and that the overwhelming melancholy and despair of the album is part of my inner being? No, I don't really think there is anything that can be said about this record besides the fact that it is stunningly personal. In turn, it made me want to make this review stunningly personal, and that is what "Deathconsciousness" essentially did: inspire me. This record is draining, it is intelligent, it is an amazing composition, but most of all it is an inspiring, subdued lo-fi masterpiece that almost perfects the idea of home recording. The group of people involved with the production and creation of this record have shown through their music that they have no pretensions and are just trying to share what they've done with people that they think will appreciate it. Maybe in a sense, that is what my goal in music criticism is all about: to help similar-minded people find similarly enjoyable things. A simple concept brought to mind by a simple record.
Have a Nice Life - 'Deathconsciousness' Disc 1 (2008)
Have a Nice Life - 'Deathconsciousness' Disc 2 (2008)