If in literature a tragedy is a work that begins high and ends low, and a comedy (think Dante’s) vice versa, then what about a narrative that starts with order and ends dissolved into nothingness? Stability to chaos in the span of a few hundred pages, an hour and a half at the movies, or two sides of an LP. What can we call it? It doesn’t have to be dramatic, is in fact rarely pronounced, and foregoes the three-act structure in favor of a long, obvious decline. Steady and inexorable is the slide into darkness, dissolution, anarchy, and must be obviously stated or otherwise seem cruel and impossible. Is there a word?
Well, there is a sound. Have a Nice Life has been active in fits and starts since 2008’s Deathconsciousness arrived on the scene, sneaking into the musical conversation until the self-distributed record became a catchall for buzz about new types of music still only truly catching on. With The Unnatural World, finally arriving six years later, the duo capitalizes on all of its promise and brings to us a mutated step-child, densely packed with grimy programmed drums and massive synthesizers and insistent bass, beginning with “Guggenheim Wax Museum” and “Defenstration Song,” its two most melodic numbers to date, and kickstarting the decline spoken above.
This is best demonstrated in Dan Barrett’s vocals. Catchy and pushed to the forefront on the record’s A-side, when they return they are vague imitations of themselves, drowned under the toy-box glitches of “Cropsey” or within “Unholy Life” and its propulsive take on industrial shoegaze. It becomes harder to understand what he says as the music falls apart around him, each mirroring the other. The vocals prove an ever-malleable instrument to this end, stitched into a choir on “Music Will Unntune the Sky,” filling the space between empty industrial clicks in the wasteland of “Emptiness Will Eat The Witch.” Voices stack until the notes devour each other and confuse the ear. Each song asks: what is left? The whole of it suddenly ended, not even an echo, guitars simply unplugged. The needle skating off the groove.
“It isn’t real but it feels real” Barrett announces during the Bauhaus-isms of “Burial Society.” So goes the approximately 50-minute runtime of Unnatural World, about half of Deathconsciousness’ but lending itself to greater movement overall. Each song feels meticulous, parts integrated wonderfully to produce a precise outcome. Repetition feels earned, not the result of laziness but instead a greater ear for both melody and chaos, for how both can develop when allowed to breathe. The two invoke claustrophobia and awe and the slow churning of discomfort only to suddenly stop the tape, wondering where the feelings ever came from in the first place. So when “Emptiness” pulls out the rug, you jump sharply from open water to steady ground, and realize it was all implanted in your head to begin with. There is a word for that: an accomplishment.