Monday, October 31, 2016

It Only Gets Worse - Angels

By Craig Hayes. Prolific Dutch musician Maurice de Jong is famed for conjuring nightmarish visions with his black metal/harsh noise project Gnaw Their Tongues. It’s not all dissonant exploits for de Jong though. He also delves into shoegaze, drone, and avant-garde electronics with his other solo and collaborative ventures.
By Craig Hayes.


Prolific Dutch musician Maurice de Jong is famed for conjuring nightmarish visions with his black metal/harsh noise project Gnaw Their Tongues. It’s not all dissonant exploits for de Jong though. He also delves into shoegaze, drone, and avant-garde electronics with his other solo and collaborative ventures. But whether he’s making music that’s extreme or ethereal, de jong’s always shown great skill in sculpting sounds that unnerve.

Matt Finney is a US-based troubadour of tragedy whose work also gets under the skin, and his collaborations with de Jong under the It Only Gets Worse banner have burrowed deep into the darkest corners of the mind. On It Only Gets Worse’s brand new album, Angels, Finney's poetry and de Jong's music intertwine to construct more uneasy art. Although, where Finney’s tales of regret, loss or desperation have often been cathartic in the past, exorcising demons isn’t on the agenda with Angels.

Clearly, Finney is no stranger to demons himself; be they metaphoric or otherwise. His world-weary prose and gruff voice articulate what we’re often too afraid to admit to ourselves, let alone say out loud. His haunting words and delivery originally caught my attention via Finney's collaborations with Ukrainian composer Heinali. The duo’s Conjoined and Ain't No Night full-lengths featured a bewitching mix of grim spoken word and downtempo electronics, and, in essence, Finney and de Jong’s It Only Gets Worse project also combines sombre soundscapes with gloomy narratives.

That's not to say that It Only Gets Worse simply repeats a formula perfected by Finney and Heinali. Finney’s verse is often framed by de Jong with far less abrasiveness on their releases. On Angels, de Jong continues his use of subtle albeit ominous atmospherics to underscore the album’s bleak vocabulary. “Grace” features dark waves of melancholic electronics. “Anna” has sharper nerve-tweaking notes cutting through its ambient elements. And “Sepia Toned” and “Thaw” see cinematic minimalism evoke expressive panoramas. Essentially, the musical structure of Angels is almost the antithesis of de Jong’s work with his Gnaw Their Tongues project. Here, the music he creates doesn’t set out to overwhelm or intimidate. Instead, it offers crucial scaffolding for Finney’s balladry –– which is where the true brutality of Angels lies.

In other words, de Jong’s contributions serve as a critical soundtrack intensifying Angels’ bleak verse. And once you realise you’re listening to an entire album dedicated to the tale of a father who’s murdered his young twin daughters, then you’re in for an uncomfortable listening experience: especially if you’re a parent, like myself.

Still, rather than seeming gratuitous or sensationalist, Finney’s curt prose and sketched out scenes feel more like an exploration of why and how someone could commit such atrocities. Of course, Angels is dramatic, because murder is clearly a dramatic affair. But Finney and de Jong aren’t simply chronicling a catastrophe for cheap thrills here. Nor are they simply reenacting events inspired by real life crimes.

On Angels, it really seems as if Finney and de Jong are set on summoning the over-arching climate that surrounds such appalling events. Obviously, it’s all a matter of how you perceive or interpret Angels on a personal level. But, for me, all actions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are so heinous or shocking that they cannot be captured or explained by words alone. Hence the need for the kind of interweaving of music and verse found on Angels. It's art that allows you to truly gauge the emotional weight of the heaviest experiences imaginable.

Ultimately, Angels doesn’t provide easy answers or upbeat resolutions. But, like all great art, it does ask a lot of uneasy questions. Shrouded in music that’s often as soul-shaking as it is soul-stirring is the cold and callous realisation that perhaps we truly are lost as a species. If that is the case, then It Only Gets Worse isn’t just an apt name for Finney and de Jong’s grim collaborations. It can also be seen as deeply prophetic pronouncement. One that’s certainly summed up in both beautiful and horrific terms by the unanswerable tragedy that Angels depicts.

Tagged with 2016, ambient, Craig Hayes, electronica, It Only Gets Worse
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