Pop music is designed to be a salve for modern living – a way to blow off some steam after our 80-hour a week jobs, letting us lose ourselves in some escapist fantasy for a bit as we listen to Top 40 hip-hop artists talk about booze we can’t afford to drink, clothes we can’t afford to wear, trips we can’t afford to take, in a simulacrum of pleasure and desire. Pop Music can be both necessary AND dangerous.
Pop music also brings us a sense of community, of belonging, in the increasingly atomized world we live in. It’s all too easy to feel like you’re living on one of the jigsaw puzzles in the background of Salvador Dali’s The Disintegration Of The Persistence Of Memory, as any sense of familiarity or normalcy plummets into the void of unknowing, right below our feet. It can be comforting to find some like minds and kindred spirits in the freefall, either dishing up real connections or the illusion of intimacy. Either one will suffice, in the Long Dark Night Of The Soul.
But what is Pop music were designed to bring together the nihilistic, the damaged, the barely there and struggling? What if Pop music were like an anti-lifestyle advertisement, instead of trying to get us to buy more Tom Ford and Cristal?
This is the world conveyed by Portland metal duo’s The Body, on the sprawling, relentless No One Deserves Happiness for the mighty Thrill Jockey Records. For No One Deserves Happiness, the ridiculously heavy guitar-and-drums duo sought to create “the grossest pop record of all time,” with compelling results.
No One Deserves Happiness re-imagines Modern Day Pop Worship as a kind of ascetic, sackclothes-and-ashes punishment cult. Instead of arms around shoulders, swaying and singing, No One Deserves Happiness transfigures the hypothetical club into a scourge of whips and horsehair shirts, with everyone bonding over the absolute lack of connections, embracing the freefall into the pit and void.
To achieve this Anti-Pop, The Body augment their gruelling, two-ton sludge metal assault with some new drum machine and synth textures, like “Shelter Is Illusory”, with its cold drum machines and horror synths, like an undead Charli XCX, as well as several guest contributions, most notably longtime collaborator Chrissy Wolpert, of Assembly Of Light Choir. Wolpert brings an elegiac pagan spark to the proceedings, re-imagining the Virtual Plaza as a sacrificial temple and existentialist salon.
This may be The Body’s take on Pop music, but don’t expect anything smooth, slick, comfortable, or complacent. No One Deserves Happiness melds the Portland duo’s usual mixture of monolithic drone metal, hardcore, and noise into a towering wall of barbed, pummeling noise, like a two-story wall of brass nettles, to keep out the light, the warmth, and any form of human connection.
No One Deserves Happiness is truly terrifying, intimidating, cathartic music at times. Be warned. King’s vocals shriek like a harbinger of death, while the guitars sound like some beast crawling from the Marianas Trench. This is Pop music for people who like to be uncomfortable – no doubt about it – for people who don’t trust the system or feel a part of it.
-words by J Simpson