It Only Gets Worse – “Angels” (Album Premiere + Interview)
Brutality comes in many forms. As a metal website, the word and concept is connoted in a very specific way, pertaining to volume, aggressiveness and other decidedly "metallic" practices, but it isn't owned solely by metal. Brutality in music, at least to me, leaves me feeling ravaged, hollowed out. Yes, Wormed certainly does a good job of doing that, but international trip-hop duo It Only Gets Worse empties me out with a different sort of savagery.
The meeting of minds between American poet and spoken word artist Matt Finney and renowned Dutch multi-instrumentalist and madman Maurice "Mories" De Jong (Gnaw Their Tongues, Pyriphlegethon, Seirom et al) as It Only Gets Worse was initially unexpected, as I might have been able to see Matt Finney in a trip-hop band, but Mories? Not so much. And it worked. And it was brutally sad. Now with a few EPs and a full-length (Christian Country Home, Tartarus Records, 2015) under their belt, their mastery of the minimal and dismal is fully cemented with upcoming album Angels.
Fusing the moody, jazzy sounds of Badalamenti's Twin Peaks score with minimal electronic beats and weathered, gruff spoken poetry, Angels expounds upon the despondent roots of Finney and Mories's earlier works and gives the individual elements more space. The droning, sedated pop syrup bleeds slowly and with purpose, as restrained and calculated as Finney's truncated prose. The beautiful, calming music belies some very harsh themes, which are expanded further by Finney himself below, which feeds into my earlier conceit of brutality. This is sad, despairing music, and, when given the right context, is difficult to listen to in one sitting. And yet Angels is beautiful, and there are moments in which Mories's downcast pop electronics, when paired with Finney's distant, detached presentation, become otherworldly. There are a lot of harsh things in this world, gussied up with flowers and pretty colors, but they only serve as a mask, and the superficial beauty of Angels only makes what it hides all the more hideous.
Angels will see a tape release on Cloister Recordings US on October 5 (you can preorder it now) with a digital version from the band to be made available sometime next week. Read an interview with lyricist Matt Finney below, accompanied with an early "first listen" to the album in full.
You've given me a bit of a basic rundown of the album's "story." Could you describe the album's concept for our readers?
The concept for the album is a father killing his twin daughters. Kind of simple but it was unbelievably hard to write. I didn't want to give anything away. I didn't want anyone to know why he was doing it. I wanted to focus on this awful act and let it unfold from there. Keep the details blurred but focus on the horror. The older I get the more news seems to upset me. There's a big meth problem where I live and there was a father who murdered his wife and his kids and didn't even know what happened until the next day when he sobered up. You'd think I'd get used to the awful shit people do to each other but I still find new things that make me sick.
It seems like your body of work concentrates thematically on what most would consider upsetting news and/or derelicts (I am reminded of the spent sex worker about whom you wrote in "Ain't No Night"). With the upsetting news and meth issues to which you just referenced, is this representative of your worldview, or is it more of a specific symbol?
It's always important to write what you know and that's what I've always tried to do. I've lived in trailers most of my life. You meet some pretty shitty people living in trailer parks and I think that informed the kind of person I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be a drunk, I didn't want to be a drug addict but that didn't stop me from being surrounded by it. I'm a Southern writer and this is my version of the South. It runs through everything I have a part in. I can't seem to shake it.
Being a conduit has to take its toll.
You're telling me, man!
I've noticed your phrasing is brief, rife with truncated phrases and harsh pauses (an example from "Floral Print": "the van light cutting on. letting the wind pour over both of us."). Is this based on your own spoken diction or intentional for tension?
It's definitely intentional. I wanted the album to be as tense as it could be and I wanted it to be as bare bones as possible. That meant me cutting down on my rambling, which you know I'm no stranger to. I went through about 3 to 4 sets of lyrics for each song and ended up having to pick out what meant the most, what had the most impact to the story. It's the first time I ever had to do that. A lot of editing went into this and it was a pain in the ass but I'm so proud of this one lyrically.
As someone who is never been gifted lyrically or prosaically, editing material down seems like a monolithic task. How do you know when lyrics are done? I feel like it would be especially difficult as you do not strictly follow the beats laid down by your bandmate, Mories.
For me it's all about packing a punch. If it doesn't get me excited when it's finished it'll probably never see the light of day. Thankfully I don't have to do a lot of editing unless it's just a complete fucking wreck but I do a have a dear friend I run all of my lyrics by. It's our mutual friend who's also an incredible artist, Stephen Wilson. I'm always bombarding him with my writing and if I can get the "JESUS CHRIST" reaction out of him then I know I have a winner.
Ha! I, personally, know it takes a lot to get that kind of reaction from Stephen, to boot. I actually sent the lyrics over to my editor, Joseph Schafer, and he responded with a succinct, "Jesus, dude," so you definitely achieved your goal. We had referenced the abundance of inspiration when it comes to your subject matter of choice, but do you feel most at ease writing and speaking about shocking material?
There you go! If you're making your friends feel like shit then you're probably doing it right. Well, I don't know if it's shocking but I feel most at ease writing and speaking about things that matter to me. Whether it's relationships I've been in or meth addicts or abusive fathers or things that have happened to my family or friends. If I don't care about it how can I expect anyone listening to care?
So it's more about passion than comfort?
Absolutely. That's what it's all about. Making something passionate and exciting. I'm fine with going to uncomfortable places as long as I can have a hand in making album that I'm so stoked about that I'll send you a copy to listen to 6 months in advance.
This album is one of those rare situations in which lyrics and music come from two separate entities and still work cohesively. What sort of process does an It Only Gets Worse album go through? Do you approach Mories with a concept, do you derive one from the music he creates, or is it more of a mutual symbiosis?
It usually involves us both talking about what we wanna do next. I wasn't sure where we were gonna go after Christian Country Home but I wanted to do the complete opposite of something that was all about my personal life. I came up with this story and I pitched it to Mories and I said, "Let's do something like Twin Peaks but with a lot of Enya." I'm as shocked as anyone that he went for it but I think it was exciting to him. But yeah, I'll write the whole album, record my vocals and the music he sends back is his response and it's amazing. I mean, it's Mories. Is he ever not amazing?
That is a unique approach - you don't hear about bands building off a vocal track. Was it that smooth with Christian Country Home, or had you streamlined the process since?
I think we've had it streamlined since Love Songs, actually. It's a process that works and never seems to get stagnant for either of us. The way he messed around with my voice and buried it in there. I thought it was a nice touch and added to the claustrophobia. It's little things like that that are all him and change the tone of the album.
Are there plans for more It Only Gets Worse?
Of course. You know we're both workaholics. We actually have our next album done. Not entirely sure what we're gonna do with it but there will always be more from us.
Any insight into this new one, or are you going to make us wait?
I think I can give you a little insight into it. The songs here were supposed to be a split with another band who backed out at the last minute. It was a bummer but what can you do? I ended up writing another song to help flesh it out and it's a sequel to "Black Metal Imagery" from Christian Country Home. Well, it's kind of a sequel. It's dark and pretty and there's a sample from a Madonna song on there. We were gonna do "Crawling" by Linkin Park but I think this turned out better. Gretchen Heinel is also doing another beautiful video for it as well.
I certainly look forward to it! Any final thoughts/anything you want to add which I might have missed?
We hope you like it! I'd just like to say thank you for the wonderful interview. It's always a blast speaking with you. We hope everyone enjoys Angels. It's perfect for Halloween. Buy a copy and scare your mom.
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