Whether or not you're as a dedicated fan of his as I am, I'm no longer sure if metrics of “good” or “bad” apply to Carey Mercer's solo project, Blackout Beach. Like Scott Walker's modern music, it has few precedents or points of comparison and so it's hard to tell how good or not it is. You like it because it's successful at what it's trying or because you find it interesting, and you sure aren't going to put it on at a party. Anyway, I don't think it's possible to like Blackout Beach on an album-by-album basis; by now, you're either all in or all out, and Fuck Death will do nothing to change anyone's mind.
Mercer's last two releases, Frog Eyes's Paul's Tomb: A Triumph and Blackout Beach's Skin Of Evil, felt like they belonged in the same headspace even if they sounded little alike. The same dark, intense atmosphere permeated both, many of the same characters haunted both records, and they were made around the same period of time. Naturally, Fuck Death has much more in common with Skin Of Evil, though it does feels of-a-piece with both albums.
Still, this is not Skin Of Evil Part 2 even if the constituent parts sound similar. Mercer is pushing himself to his greatest extremes yet on Fuck Death: at more than 12 minutes, 'Drowning Pigs' is the longest track he's ever made. Similarly, there are very few traditional guitar sounds on Fuck Death as Mercer decided to focus on synthesizers and atmospherics. Perhaps he was inspired by Spencer Krug's Moonface release from earlier this year, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped, where Krug limited himself to primitive organs and drum machines. Or maybe the influence was the other way around. But I digress.
In a press release for Fuck Death, Mercer took a few swipes at the chillwave scene in between explaining that the record focuses on themes of war, beauty, and cowardice. All of this, somehow, makes sense to me after listening to this album off and on for a few weeks. One could make the argument that Blackout Beach is the opposite of chillwave, forcing the listener into discomforting thoughts and environments, like a Lars Von Trier film. After all, there are no hooks or melodies, or anyway, no intentional ones. The way 'Be Forewarned, The Night Has Come' peaks at the end is strangely addictive to these ears, though it's worth noting I genuinely like the No New York compilation, so perhaps I'm skewed as to what is catchy and addictive. As for the war, beauty, and cowardice...I assure you, it's there in the lyrics and the sounds, you just have to keep working at it.
And you'll have to trust me that the work is worth it, because despite the extremes that it goes to, Fuck Death is perhaps the most successful Blackout Beach album yet. Which is my way of saying, it's perhaps the best Blackout Beach album yet. The lengthy, demanding 'Drowning Pigs' seems like pretentious, slapped together dreck until you've heard it a few times with patience in tow. To be honest, it has most of the weakest moments of Fuck Death and lacks the visionary progression of previous Mercer epics, though it still manages to be interesting and also has, yes, some of the album's strongest moments. The bit around the 8:00 mark when he's singing over himself made me realize just how pretty and traditional his voice can sound when he wants it to.
Fuck Death is desolate, lonely music and by extension, it only makes sense when heard on headphones or perhaps curled up in front of the record player with a cigarette and some wine. If any of the above sounds at all compelling, this is the album for you. If you don't always qualify music in terms of 'good' or 'bad', but how 'interesting' or 'successful' it is, Fuck Death may be for you, too.
5 Successful Stars Out Of 5