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Eleven years after the release of their debut album Deathconsciousness, Have A Nice Life have graced us with their third album of songs to add to my ever-growing depression playlist, Sea of Worry. Contrary to the band’s general ethos of being utterly miserable and the future is terrible, I’ve been looking forward to this album all damn year. And while, like many of the other releases I was looking forward to this year, it hasn’t quite lived up to my expectations, it still certainly grew on me after a few listens.
Back in 2008, with song names like ‘Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail’, HANL preceded the noticeable trend amongst Zoomers of talking about depression and suicide through jokes, giving them a certain ironic distance. The band has continued that ethos on ‘Sea of Worry,’ particularly with ‘Lords of Tresserhorn,’ as the song begins with the lyrics:
“I can stay up late
Whenever I want
And other than that
It’s nothing like I’d thought
I guess I thought I’d know
What I’m doing by now”
From this, it’s about becoming independent, and how that doesn’t bring the happiness that we’re constantly led to believe, and not in the Buzzfeed “I can’t adult, fellow kids” sort of way, either. All these traditional measures for being a respectable adult (steady career, marriage, having kids, owning property) have melted into thin air, and are no longer as applicable as once thought, leaving people in a state of perpetual adolescence, and the song lays that feeling bare. But, just in case the band is emotionally honest for too long, they choose to convey this idea while referencing Magic: The Gathering, providing levity and making explicit the idea that adulthood and childhood aren’t these binary characteristics that can never crossover. It’s actually brilliant if you look too far into it, as I like to do.
Musically, their latest work is a departure from the droning, ambient soundscapes of HANL’s last album, The Unnatural World. They instead embrace their roots with songs like ‘Sea of Worry’, ‘Dracula Bells’, and ‘Trespassers W’, relatively straightforward, to-the-point post-punk tunes. The first two, in particular, are reminiscent of Joy Division’s more danceable tracks, with driving, prominent basslines and drum beats that stand out just as much as they have to. ‘Dracula Bells’ is my favourite of the album’s post-punk songs. The song changes entirely halfway through, from a typical miserable post-punk number to something genuinely sinister. While it does go on for slightly too long, it ends with a powerful and haunting bassline providing the backing track to someone having an extremely bad time playing the piano. Not to imply that they suck, more so that they sound like they’re having a piano-assisted breakdown. (Dan Barrett did a similar thing on his debut album as Giles Corey.)
Even the tracks that aren’t directly post-punk are still more reminiscent of Deathconsciousness than The Unnatural World. The last two, ‘Lords of Tresserhorn’ and ‘Destinos’, entirely make the album for me, as they effectively play the role that ‘Earthmover’ played on HANL’s debut. ‘Lords of Tresserhorn’ even follows a similar structure to ‘Earthmover’. It begins with a style of bassline that might as well be patented by HANL at this point, followed by the introduction of distant drums in the mix. Alongside the vocals, the music immediately lets listeners know that something is coming. And exactly like ‘Earthmover’, the song builds and builds before a brief pause for proper effect, before bursting with waves of distorted, reverberated instruments. It’s a well-worn post-rock formula by now, especially given that HANL has done this dance before, but that doesn’t stop it from making me giddy every time I listen to it. Almost every other song had to win me over after a few listens, but ‘Lords of Tresserhorn’ is one of two tracks that gripped me hard right off the bat.
The other is closer ‘Destinos,’ which is a re-recording of an original Deathconsciousness B-side, and it shows. Firstly, it’s 13 minutes long, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The first several minutes are centered around a sample of a lecture about God’s justification for sending sinners to eternal punishment. I initially thought it was a university lecture of some kind, on the topic of theology or philosophy, yet it takes a few of minutes for the lecturer to reveal to listeners that he’s a preacher. After this, he takes on a proselytizing tone, bemoaning the failures of the “secular worldview” and all the other things you’d expect to hear from an academic-style preacher.
The song slowly adds an acoustic guitar and what sounds like synthesized strings to accompany the lecturer. Over time the song adds vocals and eventually transitions into a powerful closing track that reminds me of ‘In the House, In a Heartbeat’, that song from the mansion scene in 28 Days Later. Like I said above, both ‘Lords of Tresserhorn’ and ‘Destinos’ effectively play the role of ‘Earthmover’ for ‘Sea of Worry,’ and both are fantastic closing tracks, which is why I find their placement on the album as second-last and last as very odd. They’re great songs, but maybe would’ve best gone somewhere else.
It’s not all wonderful sadness though, as there are a couple of songs that do very little for me. One is the instrumental track, ‘Everything We Forgot’, and the other is a re-recording of a Deathconsciousness B-side, ‘Trespassers W’.
‘Everything We Forgot’ has all the issues that unnecessary instrumental tracks do; provides nothing to the album, is generally uninteresting, sounds nothing like the other songs, and it should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. ‘Trespassers W’ is curious, because it starts with a pretty good riff, which is uncommon for HANL, who are usually recognized for their slow, atmospheric wanderings more than their riffs. But afterward, the song kind of just turns into another post-punk tune that doesn’t stand out all that much. What’s more surprising is that, like ‘Destinos’, it’s a previous cut from Deathconsciousness, showing that not everything from that period is equally amazing.
‘Sea of Worry’ is the most straightforward of Have a Nice Life’s releases thus far, coming in at a tidy 46 minutes of noisy, shoegaze-y post-punk that leaves certain elements of their previous albums behind. Nothing present here may be as mind-melting or as spell-binding as ‘Earthmover’ or as transcendently atmospheric as ‘Guggenheim Wax Museum’ once were, but it has its own merits and strengths. Hell, I certainly learned to enjoy this new HANL album far more than I did on my first early listens, so if you don’t vibe with ‘Sea Of Worry’ immediately, that’s okay: just give it some time.
Sea Of Worry
Everything We Forget
Lords Of Tresserhorn
‘Sea Of Worry’ is out now: