Dave Phillips – To Death

Posted: 25 July 2021 in Albums
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Misanthropic Agenda – MAR057 – 7th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Dave Phillips’ new album is quite explicit: it’s an album dedicated to death. He explains this in the liner notes, ‘not death the spectre that installs horror and fear in many (in the western world), nor death the enemy of the (western) for-profit medical system, but death as part of a cycle, like birth. death the only certainty in life. dying, like living, as something that can be done well – or not. death also something that can be a release, a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom.’

The album, which he directs the listener to play as one continuous session, was inspired by his father’s illness, deterioration and death, and being his carer for the 15 last months of his life, and was, poignantly, sent off to press in early June 2021, when his father died. This clearly makes To Death an incredibly personal work.

Perhaps predictably, To Death is a dark album. Predictably, not primarily because of the subject matter, but because my last encounter with Phillips’ work – 2014’s Homo Animalis – was pretty dark, too, although he’s done a hell of a lot since then. And for Phillips’ observation that death can be ‘a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom’, death is rarely seen as a cause for elation or celebration in the human psyche, particularly in the west, where there is a deep-rooted fear of death, and a culture that promotes prolonging and preserving life at all costs, regardless of quality. Death is perceived as a loss, something devastating, and to be avoided at all costs, and I’m forever presented with news items and comments on social media about people who have died in their 70s or 80s – particularly during the pandemic – having been ‘taken before their time’. But when is their time? Everyone has a time, and everyone has to die of something, and the state of denial about the inevitability of death is psychologically detrimental.

But as the title of the album’s second track says it so succinctly, ‘fear of death = fear of life’. A life lived in fear of death is no life at all. Of course, an awareness of death is something else entirely. You have to take some risks to know you’re actually alive. How many people say on their death bed that they were glad they did nothing in case it killed them? There’s a clear theme to this album, both sonically and in the tiles: ‘everyone dies, not everyone lives’ is the perfect encapsulation of Phillips’ ethos. It also manifests as a dolorous booming drone like a ship’s horn juxtaposed with maniacal shouting, distorted and raw, and very much in the vein of Prurient. As such, Phillips articulates beyond words and reaches into the very core of the psyche.

Ominous drones that hum and buzz hover unsettlingly and uncomfortably, eddying around whispered words, barely audible during the ten-minute first track, ‘a cycle completed’. What is it about whispers in darkness that we find so unnerving? Gradually, ponderous bass notes and dubious creaking sounds enter the mix as the drones become more tense and eerie.

The third piece, ‘to death we all go, the sooner the better’ is filled with agonised shrieks and howls and pain and anguish – and the title conveys a sentiment I can truly buy into. Humanity is a scourge, and the worst of all plagues on the planet.

Listening to the album in a single sitting is certainly a powerful experience, and there is some dense, challenging noise, and things grow darker and doomier as the album progresses: a stark piano note chinks out and is quickly submerged in a wheezing drone and more muttered narrative on ‘real catastrophe’ which plunges deep into underground rumblings. ‘We are the virus…’ he whispers amidst a soup of spectral voices. ‘The real catastrophe is that humanity continues.’ Phillips’ apparent misanthropy is hardly unjustified: in the scheme of all eternity, it’s taken us but the blink of an eye to render countless species extinct and decimate countless ecosystems. In nature, other species don’t destroy their own habitat. Even viruses and parasites evolve to achieve maximum replication without destroying their hosts. It’s simply not in their interests. The common cold is the most successful virus of all time because it’s highly contagious but rarely kills its host, other than by complications. The more hosts available, the times it can reinfect, the less work it has to do to propagate itself.

Siren-wailing undulations lead us to ‘the other side’, a groaning, wheezing croak of a composition built on repetition before finally, the title track crawls to the finish – and having made it, I can die happy.

Some speculate that death is not the end, but the likelihood is that it is, and regardless of spiritual belief, physically, it is. And why should that be such a bad thing? All things must end, and it’s a matter of when, rather than if. Live life: accept death.

AA

dp to death digi w newest corrections

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