ALBUM REVIEW: Wreck and Reference conjures synthetic existential nightmares on ‘Absolute Still Life’

Wreck and Reference, Absolute Still Life

Up until this point, Wreck and Reference could still fall under the parameters of post-metal. Not in the usual genre tropes, but more like The Body or Health. Ignat Frege and Felix Skinner have spent the past decade combining elements of black metal, drone pop, post-industrial music and other styles for a decade. Since its inception, the band has left listeners perplexed and fascinated by its depressive electro-acoustic explorations. For Absolute Still Life, Wreck and Reference almost entirely leaves anything remotely rock-related behind. In a cross section of lo-fi hip-hop and post-industrial, Frege and Skinner reach some of their most haunting territory.

Absolute Still Life
Wreck and Reference
The Flenser, July 19

Singles “A Mirror,” “Sturdy Dawn” and “What Goes In And Comes Out” exemplify Absolute Still Life’s complete departure from rock elements. In fact, Wreck and Reference’s new direction would be more likely to appeal to fans of cloud rap.

What’s immediately noticeable is the production’s balance between nuance and minimalism. The three songs’ respective glossy synths, paranoid arpeggiations and dreary drones are achieved without relying on an overabundance of sound effects. The band’s reliance on electronics is at an all-time high, but the sparse beats and deep atmospheres leave room for some soft-spoken but incredibly vivid lyrics.

Themes of nihilism, depression and anxiety aren’t new to Wreck and Reference, but tunes like the simple, depressive beat music of “Eris Came To Me At Night” benefit from some rapturous tales of internal strife. “I just lay back and waited for the drama to begin/ For my life to unravel crumble or capsize,” Frege sings, his words speaking to the heart of existential nightmares.

The moody, noisy and hauntingly melodic “In Uniform” gies a step further by mocking the idea of righteous martyrdom: “If you could, you would vomit on cue on the face of those who have wronged you/ You say you won’t, but you will/ Aren’t you the righteous one?” These chilling sentiments add a lot of weight to a record largely void of Wreck and Reference’s aggressive side.

Both “Stubborn Lake” and “Dumb Forest” heavily use processed vocal samples. The former continuously blurs the line between between real voices and sampling, and the latter incorporates them into its glitchy atonality. The way these soundscapes evolve and transform is the foundation by which Absolute Still Life becomes more than a mere genre experiment.

These arrangements are emotional and multifaceted, in accordance with the lyrical depth. “Amends” accomplishes this as its staggered shuffle beat and pronounced keyboard chords gradually lead to a convincing crescendo of synthetic layering. Centering on the inability to find closure in the throes of self-destructive chaos, it personifies the synergy Wreck and Reference finds in its sonics and concepts. The rising action follows the protagonists’ despondent realization: “There’s no patient parent waiting to tell you you’re just doing fine.”

“Irony Of Being Something” ends the album in a stylistic range encompassing Arca-like avant-electronics, harrowing noise pop and abstract hip-hop. Wreck and Reference simultaneously acknowledges the brokenness of life and resigns itself to the misery: “If happiness writes white on the page/ Find a dark pit and throw me in.”

These final words encapsulate Absolute Still Life’s overall feel. It moves slowly, but spans the whole of human existence through a lense of deadening cynicism. That shouldn’t surprise anyone even passingly familiar with the band, but considering how much its aura has changed, the fact it translates so effectively is quite remarkable.

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