John Congleton has always stood out to me as being one of the most underrated and underappreciated artists out there. He is however well recognised (and has even won a Grammy) for his production work with a vast array of bands and artists spanning multiple genres. He has also created soundtracks for The Discovery Channel, Jackass, Evil Lives Here and a number of other shows.
Sadly, while he is widely respected in that world his own music slips under most people’s radars and despite his highly unique voice, dark and intelligent, yet humorous lyricism and in your face creativity, most people couldn’t name a project or album of his. Aside from being a While his best-known work as a musician is with his primary band The Paper Chase (an amazing band, well worth your time too), to me his magnum opus will always be Until The Horror Goes, an album released with a project by the name of John Congleton and the Nighty Nite back in April of 2016.
This is a release that somehow managed to slip under most people’s radars and the only reason I was aware of it was that I already closely followed John’s career. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect going into the album, just as I feel with all of Congleton’s releases, given his tendency to do literally whatever he wants musically. I was correct to have apprehensions, as not only had he shifted gears dramatically from his work with The Paper Chase, drawing in more elements of experimental pop, electronica and noise. The songs had become far catchier and more upbeat, having an almost manic feeling at points.
Musically the project may have gone in a different direction, but what truly made the album special and brought things back into familiar Congleton territory were the incredibly dark, violent and nihilistic lyrics present throughout the release. There’s a stunning disconnect between the music’s catchy and upbeat energy and tone and its content and themes. It’s like a serial killer stabbing a victim repeatedly while smiling and asking about their day. The quality of the lyricism on the release should come as no surprise though, given that this has always been an element that has elevated John above many of his peers, but even for him this is a new level of quality.
Musically the album may present as pop influenced, catchy, and upbeat, however when you pay attention there’s an unsettling twist woven into its very fabric. It’s hard to put your finger on just what it is, but it’s almost as if the notes and pitches used are very slightly off of where they should be, as is their timing. The fact that these elements are so subtle creates a general sense of unease in the listener that they may not even consciously pick up on. Having said that, there are plenty of musical elements on the album that are far more intentionally and obviously sinister in sound and presentation. It’s the balance between these overt elements and the more subtle complexities that make the release so special.
John’s voice has always been a huge drawcard for me, as I feel that it strikes a perfect balance between emotional depth, nasal tone, and underlying power in his delivery. It adds a sense of dramatic flair to the music while also giving it a slightly unhinged and sleazy feeling, particularly when he gets into the darker elements of his tracks. He also knows exactly how to use distortion and effects to his advantage but never goes overboard with them as many artists tend to do.
Rather than breaking down each track by its elements I would rather highlight the most entertaining, clever, and shocking lyrics that the album has to offer listeners that are willing to pay attention. I believe that each of you can listen to the album yourself and easily appreciate the musical side of things, but I feel as if this side of the album requires some serious attention.
The album opens with Animal Rites which wastes no time before launching into some truly unsettling content, immediately introducing the listener to the album’s themes of nihilism and murder:
You have married a mobile mortuary
Constantly living the first line of his obituary
And I’m a bad man
With the business of being, the business of breathing
The business of eating, the business of being a bad man
I am a bad man
When you’re crazy at 20, you are sex to be had
When you’re crazy at 50, you’re not sexy, you’re sad
You’re with a warm body, carbon contents, atoms, and proteins
I’m on a rudderless illusion of meaning
I am a vessel here in vain with no in tow
And if you wanna see a dead body, take off your clothes
Things show no sign of slowing down on The White Powerless, a track that continues the sentiments of the opening track:
You’re an unwelcomed awakening
A fragile bag of chemicals
And you’re a knee-locked revelation, waking dream
A hungry, hungry wormhole
I can cherish and hold each abdominal toll, joyless cold
Can you cherish and hold every original misconception of my soul?
Yeah, best check your hands for missing fingers once I’ve shaked them
Are you wearing a wire? Have you been compromised?
Are you being followed? Do they peep you through your peephole?
Rip you up limb from limb? You need only let me in
Your Temporary Custodian features what are easily some of my favourite lyrics on the album. They’re just so cleverly written and make such a stark point about the meaninglessness of life and our place in the universe:
And then there’s me, the temporary custodian
Of these particles and free floating radicals
That convene for 80 years or so, that’s if I’m lucky tho
Never been very lucky though
What an extraordinary thing it is to be this ordinary thing
A phenomenal nominal nominal nominal nothing
This is what it’s like… we will not be saved
We went looking for the sublime, we find only the inane
And this is what we are… and we will not be changed
We can look for unseen order
You’re gonna find that chaos reigns
We will not be saved
Canaries in the Coal Mine delivers yet more cynicism and nihilism, attacking human nature itself and hurling some unusual insults:
We will always be eating our own
We will always wonder which side you’re on
In this universe each one of us is alone
We will always be eating, always be eating our own
There’s an awkward form you now assume
Some new abstraction from your mother’s fresh womb
To cry in bathrooms, worship garbage truth
That which won’t kill you will surely scare the fuck out of you
Your plump fingers and fatty thumbs
Will curl and circle, devour the young
Canaries in the coal mines come alone
No body comes back and no body comes home
Things reach their darkest abd most morbid on Put Your Teeth In (The Dallas Nursing Home Sutra) as the lyrics talk of mass graves, murder and hiding the bodies of elderly victims from nursing homes:
We have such sights to show you
Above you, below you, mass graves
Come be the lord of the harvest
Around you, the hugest mass graves
How could anybody find you?
The ego has landed on a grave
Plump up that coffin pillow, friends
We scream like goats with open throats as they dance around in shit
And I am only looking for someone to blunder through the maze with
Who Could Love You Lucille? is another truly morbid track, coming pretty close to the previously mentioned song. It cheerily discusses murdering and eating someone while under the control of the devil:
Michelangelos line the streets of Rome
Bachs begging in Berlin
It turns an educated man
Into a wailing ape again
You deserve to be eaten
So I hope something eats you
And as God as my witness
I am here to do the devil’s business
You deserve to be beaten
Men who come for your thumbs and toes
In the jungle don’t call out
It will kill you and play with your clothes
Death to everyone! Wipe your mouth on his jeans!
When you’re coming, death is coming
You’re not coming, you’re going
And as God as my witness
I am here to do the devil’s business
I’m behind you, right behind you
Overall, this album is something truly special, it isn’t every day that someone manages to merge lyrical content of this nature with music of this energy and tone. I see the release as a triumph for boundary pushing and experimentation and I really hope to hear more music of this nature in the future. Thus far I haven’t managed to find anything that hits the same way, so if you know of anything else send CDM a message and let us know. For now though, please enjoy this one of a kind gem and add some essential listening to your musical repertoire
Listen to the album: