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Bad History Month and Patience In "Pessimysticism"

by Dan Goldin (@post_trash_)

It's 2am on a Saturday morning. I can't sleep and my mind is transfixed. I feel the weight of disappointment. Perhaps my own, perhaps of others, but a restless need to write and share some thoughts. Patience may be the key to understanding. Patience is everything.

Bad History Month rewards patience, in just about every sense of the word. It's been three years since Sean Bean released new music and four years since his last full-length with Fat History Month, but for those who have been patiently waiting, the end of that recorded silence has finally arrived in the paralyzing existentialism of Dead And Loving It: An Introductory Exploration of Pessimysticism. A record built on finding freedom in the acceptance of "nothingness," it can be viewed as a "self-help guide" but it's a closed loop, a never ending battle with meaninglessness, mortality, decomposition, and the unlikely comfort in it all.

 credit: Adric Giles

credit: Adric Giles

I have no background in existentialist theory, I have not studied philosophy, and I'm about as far as well-versed on the subject as any other schlub waxing poetic on the internet. Emotion however, and the ability to alter and affect it, is a human experience, an unequivocal feeling that resonates through each and every moment of Bad History Month's record. You feel it because it's real, it's honest. There is no bullshit, no posturing. The emotions are a reflection of a life shrouded in pessimism, but knowing enough to strive for something better. For every moment of fear and despair, there's a balance of imagination and charisma. There's a weight to Sean's words, an ever present pull... and even the darkest moments become a thing of beauty.

"The Church of Nothing Matters" begins at a slow crawl, built on plucked dissonance and rattling cymbals, and then the album's opening sentiment, "as much as nothing matters, nothing matters as much, as Nothing." It's the ideal of Pessimysticism, a bleak thought delivered with certainty and obscurity, an embracing of "nothing" that reoccurs throughout. There's a simple theme, really. We're all mortal and one die we'll all die, and with that the realization that hatred and loathing are a waste of time, a waste of feelings. If nothing matters than everyone is free. In his written introduction (part of the incredible 28-page booklet that accompanies the record), Sean writes:

"these songs are about helping yourself feel better about being alive by using your imagination to: envision and experience your own inevitable death; attempt to fathom the meaning-destroying vastness of time and space; embrace the resulting joy, freedom, and empathy that arise from the knowledge that it’s all meaningless."

It's not comfort in the traditional sense, but it's something and frankly, we're far beyond "traditional" times. "A Small Life" finds it's peace in solitude, Sean singing: "spending the daylight dreading the setting sun because I slept too late, and the nights dreading the coming light because the dark feels safe." While the serenity of these ideas lapsed in time, Dead And Loving It was a respite, a way out of mental isolation and back into the world. "A Warm Recollection" trades that existential dread for a moment of brilliant absurdity, a song that both connects with all that came before and a meaningless future where the rich "overcome" death only to travel back in time to watch life as it was. Sean sings, "there’s not much excitement in a life without fear of death. So they wish they were us. Bumbling through selfish lives and selflessly returning to dust."

The album comes full circle with "A Platitude and A Final Understanding," two songs fused together in response to one another. It's a desire for gratitude ("I scream for ice cream, and when it comes I feel sick. With guilt and regret, for throwing a  fit. I bit the tit of the world, but still got fed") and a realization of being stuck in an endless cycle ("I start to make plans, based on my newfound perspective, but it doesn’t work out, I freak the fuck out too soon, over and over and over"). Speaking about the song, Sean shared:

"'A Platitude' alludes to an AA cliche about cultivating an "attitude of gratitude." A fine sentiment and one I try and fail to live by over and over again. 'A Final Understanding' is about the occasional glorious moments of epiphanic clarity and hope which seem certain to continue lighting the road forward towards a satisfied life, but fade pretty quickly in the face of habitual negative internal dialogue and the eternal greener-ness of out-of-reach grass."

The sonic world of Bad History Month is emotionally crippling. It's ominous and heavy in tone but composed and delivered with brilliant structures, using space and silence to create an inescapable sense of feeling. Sparse and spindly guitars ring out, each note drawn out to its full extent, hovering in the stillness. Tonality and progressions are given equal importance, setting mood and atmosphere in a way few can. Sean's masterful use of pinched harmonics and finger-picked melodies remind you of the music's humanity and vulnerability. Rhythms are treated as texture, used with effective devastation, punctuating the nuances of the patiently expansive structures. Dead And Loving It unfolds, revealing itself piece by piece, finding understanding through experience. There's a majestic quality to his songwriting, a shadowy radiance that separates it from the mopey whines of suburban angst. The constructs explored are exceedingly large, and yet it remains personal, reflected in the lyrics, but driven by the patient resonance and dampened harmonies.

Bad History Month may be Sean's solo project, but he's not alone, in his feelings or actuality, assisted by longtime collaborators Mark Fede (producer, occasional drums), Dan Angel (organ, tape delay, negativity absorption) and Adric Giles (art, occasional drums), as well as a collection of friends that include members of Dust From 1000 Yrs, Dimples, Big Mess, and beyond. It's new territory for the project, a long gestating acceptance and struggle with gratitude, but the presence of friends and inspiration add clarity and provide an spiritual warmth. The knot in your stomach, the goosebumps that cover your arms, the subconscious feeling that you're witnessing something truly special that comes from seeing Bad History Month live... is all captured perfectly through focused production, wide open atmosphere, and raw tension that builds and retreats like shifting emotions.

There's a release in getting this record out, the ever looming anxiety may not be gone, but its shifted and a momentary chance to breath easy has arrived. Dead And Loving It is best experienced with an open mind and a sense of patience. The record draws little from the sunshine of pop music, but the reflections of self and it's outward spiral are gloriously crushing and supremely gorgeous. I've never been one to question "the meaning of life," whatever that may say about my simplified existence, but Bad History Month have made yet another timeless masterpiece, and there's plenty of meaning to be found in that.