Setting aside fleeting optimism, and fabricated hopes, and all the things that make life “worth living,” there arises the frightening thought that existence is potentially meaningless and therefore pretty bleak. And, in order to shut out thoughts like these that would cripple society at its core, we distract ourselves through more fulfilling activities and work to make things that provide and maintain this sense of overall fulfillment. To narrow it down more specifically, pop music serves very well as a distraction from life’s primal nihilisms with its celebration of love and loss and joy and passion. There are bands, though, like Portland’s The Body, that thrive within the idea that existence is little but loss and unending pain. All the more surprising it is, then, that they’re presenting their newest album as a “pop album,” or more specifically, the band is calling No One Deserves Happiness “the grossest pop album of all time.”
Acknowledging the band’s bleakness, though, is not to disqualify No One Deserves Happiness as a romantic album. In an interview with Invisible Oranges, drummer Lee Buford admits that “a lot of [their] songs are weirdly love songs,” especially on this album, adding that “one only experiences loss by loving something.” Thanks to The Body’s well-honed sound that refuses classification, though, this might not come across upon first listen.
Inspired by doom, sludge metal, and noise, the band thrives within the utmost tumult that the harshest of those genres can inspire. Despite their duo setup (Chip King on guitar and Lee Buford on drums), the band crafts immense and looming sounds via distortion, delay, and harsh noise, in order to brew one hell of a maelstrom of pure suffering. King’s vocals are indecipherable howls of pain, like a small yet innate voice in the back of your mind that exists for no other reason than to lament life’s insignificance. Known for their prolific collaborative habits, the band often enlists the help of Providence’s Assembly of Light Choir, which serves to push their macabre music into occult territory. Their 2010 highlight, All the Waters of the Earth Turn To Blood, opened with “A Body”, seven enchanting minutes of the all-female choir beautifully harmonizing and incanting in a way that raised the band’s terror to life.
All these elements form a trademark palette for The Body’s releases, and, remarkably, each release is noticeably distinguishable from the last, including and especially No One Deserves Happiness, which finds the band introducing an 808 drum machine among other new tweaks to add a little more pop to their palette — though that’s done through additions like cello, trombone, and some Wendy Carlos-inspired saws. The album’s opener, “Wanderings”, simultaneously invites and forebodes listeners thanks to Assembly of Light founder Chrissy Wolpert’s alluring calls to “go it alone” above a minimalist heartbeat synth. Everything then explodes into complete cacophonous hell as King shrieks out from beneath smothering sludge. From there, the album enters its most poppy phase on the kinetic and nearly catchy “Shelter Is Illusory”, which features newcomer Maralie Armstrong and her gothic, soulful charm. “Shelter”, the album’s first single, and likely the most accessible track on the album (if you could call it that) then leads into “For You”, which presents the band at their harshest and most unforgiving, making its title all the more apt.
Harsh noise lingers comfortably throughout the album, often manipulated to neglect and unsettle the listener, which truly only enhances the experience. At one point, the omnipresent static seems to birth a whistling melody from the flames of the incendiary night club that is “Two Snakes”. Side B features some of the album’s highlights, including “Adamah”, which features Armstrong excelling on what is essentially the album’s equivalent of “The Great Gig in the Sky”. Her passionate voice soars above grimy beats and slowly rising synths, like some high priestess. Meanwhile, “Starving Deserter” evokes images of a coven burning some poor farmer at the stake thanks to Wolpert’s menacing incantations surrounding King’s pained howls.
All these elements are cohere perfectly on the album’s longest track and pre-closer, “Prescience”. The massive tune proves what “A Body” did six years ago: The Body’s music is best in its crescendos. The track features sorrowful trombones and intonations drawn out as if scoring a funeral procession and burial, with King’s howls of pain and loss coming along to mourn. It lets up briefly near the end for a contemplative interlude of stirring noise before returning even harsher and sadder than before, making for a strong and final statement: Loss is inevitable in life, and joy is fleeting.
Prolific in their recordings (their split LP with Full of Hell, One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache, will be released on the 25th of this month), The Body show no signs of relenting. Despite the misery that inspires and thrives within their suffocating work, the band shows a remarkable sense of vitality, inspiring to longtime and new fans alike. With “The Myth Arc” as its finale, the album ends in a purgatorial vacuum of solemn intonations, bit-crushed percussion, and Wolpert leaving listeners haunted. “I will find you,” she promises, in the same that the spirit of No One Deserves Happiness will live on into the band’s next release, as it has thrived throughout their entire oeuvre. Although next time, as it does every time, it’ll have a new face.
Essential Tracks: “Wanderings”, “For You”, and “Starving Deserter”