Dear Felix and Ignat of Wreck and Reference,
Everything is going to be okay. It’s not all bad, right? I mean, just think about how many puppies and kitties there are in the world. Imagine when a puppy or kitty falls over because it is too stupid to negotiate with gravity. Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that a reason to smile?
Sure, we’ve got problems. I mean for one, as of the time of this writing, Donald Trump could very well be elected President of the United States of America. And if it’s not him, it will be Hillary. Plus the poison water crisis in Flint, MI is spreading across the nation. And terrorist cells are operating within our borders at this very second, planning something awful. Not to mention the scads of citizen nutjobs who’ve unsolicitedly aligned themselves with terrorist organizations because they are idiots and crave violence. And it seems like every day there’s a new video of a cop illegally harassing or flat out murdering someone. Which reminds me that police officers these days are operating on extreme levels of paranoia because the country’s streets are flooded with unregistered firearms and certifiably insane people who have not received treatment because our mental health institution has been more or less defunct since 1984. And sure, if you forget about the U.S. and look to the wider world, you’ll see that terrorists attacks are essentially a daily occurrence now, as regular as the rising and setting of the Sun. No, no one would blame you for drawing certain symbolic parallels between the half-dozen wars raging in the Middle East and the events described in the Biblical Book of Revelations. Which is to say nothing of the untold millions of women of said region who have been oppressed, raped and killed throughout history because it’s not really super-duper illegal to oppress, rape or kill them. And don’t even get me started on that sociopathic bastard, Putin, instigating extreme unrest in diplomatically precarious Eastern Europe and angling for control of oil supplies in that pesky ol’ Middle East. Let’s not even mention the plague of genocides and actual plagues raging across Africa or the globally overlooked war crimes committed regularly by totalitarian dictators or military oligarchies in Southeast Asia. And shit, it just occurred to me that an appalling percentage of those puppies and kitties I mentioned above are starving in the streets like vermin, never to know the warm touch of a loving human overlord and–holy fuck you were right all along, it is all bad and nothing is ever going to be okay.
Yeah, Wreck and Reference’s new album, Indifferent Rivers Romance End, is that gloomy. If you are already familiar with the band, you knew it was going to be. There is no way for W&R to increase the gloom they create; they can only represent it in different mixtures of red, violet, black and gray. With the Black Cassette demo, they came into this world screeching and moping and gnashing at themselves, extolling oblivion and decrying any supposed meaning or merit to existence. These dudes are maximally, terminally bummed-out. And there is no other musical entity out there which gives voice to their out-bummage the way that W&R do. No need for an “Abandon all hope, ye who etc.” sticker here: If you’ve purchased any one of the band’s releases, it is doubtless because you have already abandoned all hope.
So no, Indifferent Rivers does not present even a glimmer of a change of outlook for W&R. What it does is pursue their signature nihilist outlook from a palpably different angle than previous album Want. The music on that album was cold, distant from the listener, full of insectoid noise and furtive ambience. It was far less metal than its predecessors, subdued almost to the point of transgressing the realm of organized music for the realm of pure soundscape. Stacked up against the Baroque, indulgent, sensual and often explosive misery of debut album
Youth and follow-up EP Content, Want’s emotional minimalism was a slight let-down. Or let-up, if you prefer.
I am tormented and demoralized to report that Indifferent Rivers is an improvement in almost every conceivable way. Not a return to form, mind you, but a visionary and cocksure step forward. As always, the bulk of melodic content is generated by Felix’s sampler, and here the samples are lush, warm and writhing diagonally across the dynamic spectrum; they borrow so widely from trip-hop, IDM, World Music and Horror Synth that I feel the descriptor “Ulver-esque” is not entirely unwarranted. Some of the rhythm section consists of programmed beats and rhythmic noise sampling, against which Ignat pits his interpretive percussion style; more so than ever he sounds sure of his abilities, in complete control of his tachycardic syncopation. His vocal contributions continue to be disgusting and screw-loose, the product of a man who thinks he’s a wolf howling at a lightbulb which he has mistaken for the Moon. And Felix’s open-throated vocal hissy-fits are as spine-tingling as ever, but he really must be commended on the leaps and bounds he’s made with the application of clean vocals. They remain gothic and inconsolable, yet his pitch-control has improved, and instead of burying himself in a grave of distortion and decay, he demonstrates a willingness to leave his vocals naked on the vine. The sense of intimacy invoked by Felix’s voice alone is transfixing.
W&R’s songs have sometimes been described as “bridges to nowhere.” I’m not especially tempted to disagree; I just don’t see this as a fault. Because when you’re expressing despair as all-encompassing as this, really now, where is there to go? Indifferent Rivers unexpectedly breaks from this mold by presenting us with songs that don’t just exist and then cease; they grow, reach, evolve in every way, from volume to orchestral density to vocal intensity. This newfound bridge-building knack is perhaps best illustrated by the soul-searing key change (look it up, kids) which occurs at the 3:39 mark of “Manifestos.” The key change in rock music was killed by saccharine and self-indulgent Glam artists/producers of the 80’s. I hereby formally petition for every budding rock or metal musician of the world to study a bit of theory, learn how to execute a key change, and execute until you are blue in the face, because there is no better way to force an emotional response from your listeners. My point: the songs on this album are actually bridges to–
–somewhere, I guess, but probably nowhere in the end because that’s how everything ends anyway: NOWHERE. Just like this review.