Have a Nice Life’s “Deathconsciousness” is an album-length depressive episode
There are plenty of albums about depression. Very few of those albums, however, actually sound like depression. Elliot Smith’s voice is simply too beautiful to accurately capture the feeling of laying in bed for days at a time because you don’t have a reason to get up. That’s an ugly, shameful feeling punctuated by a profound self-hatred. Have a Nice Life‘s 2008 masterpiece Deathconsciousness is a grimy, heavy, and hopeless album, and might just be the most accurate musical depiction of depression of all time.
The album’s opener, “A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut,” is the closest thing to a “happy” moment on the entire album. Consisting only of a droning synth and a few plucked guitar chords, it is almost unspeakably beautiful. It evokes a nostalgia for a place and time that have never existed. “Eternal Worm” perfectly conjures the feeling of drifting to sleep after a stressful day, knowing you’ll be at peace for the next eight hours.
The rest of the album is an absolute nightmare that you can’t wake up from.
Immediately after “Eternal Worm” ends, Deathconsciousness brings on the darkness, and does not let up for a single second of its 84-minute runtime. “Bloodhail” is a dead-eyed account of massive death and destruction. “Deep, Deep” is a raging post-punk screed against the narrator’s own brain chemistry. “The Big Gloom” is a song depressing enough to warrant the title “The Big Gloom.”
However, as anyone who’s ever tried to hold a conversation with a depressed person knows, constant negativity is upsetting, exhausting, and worst of all, boring. Have a Nice Life is well aware of this, and make sure Deathconsciousness is as enjoyable to listen to as it is depressing. “Hunter”’s funereal beauty brings to mind some of the best Joy Division songs, and “Waiting For Black Metal Records To Come In the Mail” is almost danceable. Have a Nice Life’s chief songwriter Dan Barrett has a fantastic ear for melody, and it doesn’t go to waste here. Even in the album’s heaviest moments, there’s always a catchy tune for your ears to latch onto.
The album’s best song, “Holy Fucking Shit: 30,000”, begins with a preset from a cheap Casio keyboard and a few wistfully strummed acoustic guitar chords. Barrett sings nihilistic lyrics in a defeated tone. It features a soaring chorus that is almost liberating in its hopelessness. It’s a beautiful song, an intimate expression of desperation that feels like a last grasp at stability. And then, suddenly, it all falls apart. The song is completely swallowed into a wall of distortion and shuffling industrial drums. Any hope that may have remained in the song is forcibly beaten out of it. The song closes with some more acoustic guitar, though this time it sounds less wistful and more resigned. In Deathconsciousness, everything good must come to a brutal, soul-sucking end.
When you have depression, all your other emotions get mashed into a sort of detached empathy. The most powerful emotions barely even register as a blip. Your brain endlessly pummels at you until all you feel is nothing. Deathconsciousness perfectly captures that feeling, and somehow manages to find beauty in it.