I‘m shuffling feet in the stale anteroom air between the outside and the bank’s interior, waiting to punch an ATM. Waiting is treacherous (especially in a building where everyone is actively being confronted by their net worth): it means bodies have to cease motion. The brain withdraws, cleans house, opens up. You hear a lot:
“Let’s get nachos from that place, what’s it called?”
“No, no, I don’t want to go there.”
“El Dorado? Gazpacho? Escondido’s. Yes.”
I shut my eyes, rock in my stupid navy Toms, open my eyes. Tuned in, I would say, I’m tuned into this conversation. But waiting is treacherous, conversations are everywhere; in the lollipop wrapper-air of Bank of America, I am tuned in to everything. All of our observations and all of the Us we see in the world is the product of conversation (Pask: “We maintain that the basic unit of psychological/educational observation is conversation.”) Conversation is engagement with the world; when it doesn’t work, we super-consciously know the wreck is non-consensual (Maturana: “If this process leads to a consensual domain, it is, in the strict sense, a conversation, a turning around together.”) Every moment and thing we live in is a conversation, with it and our selves. Language gives us meaning. Conversation affords us humanity.
The problem with conversation is the humanity. The problem with humanity is the capacity for dissent. Whatever conversation is (a relation, a reference), it involves multiple voices but does not promise resolution or harmony. There’s volatility in “what about the,” a blackhole logic to conversation when the parties can’t communicate. There’s a biology to conversations, always getting better, always getting worse, always at the mercy of meaning-needy humans: What restaurant are we talking about? What aren’t we agreeing on? What are we really talking about? “I said what do you think I’m doing here/ and you don’t know, do you?/ and you said what do you think we’re doing here?/ I just laughed.”
Indifferent Rivers Romance End is pop noise as conversation theory, Wreck and Reference’s spiraling manifesto of what it means to turn around separately. The first seconds of “Powders” establish the fractured fractals, the blip of a beat, the stick on the drum head, then the piano, then the human voice. It’s an even cadence, two parties parrying each other, first with the world (“And you said what about the time outside?/ And I said what about the hours inside crumbling to dust?”), then with each other (“And you said what about the cowards? And I said what about me, what are you trying to say?”)
All that sounds academic. All that ignores the noise of conversation. All that breaks with the human voice, when Felix Skinner pushes the instrument for communication past recognition. When we talk about Wreck and Reference, we want to talk about their metalness, we want to point to Skinner’s shredded screams as part of a tradition we know, to levy a heaviness with Ignat Frege’s drumming. We want our conversation with the band to resolve. We want consensus.
The songs on Indifferent Rivers Romance End revel in contradiction. There’s Skinner losing his voice and mind in “that’s fine that’s fine that’s fine that’s fine” all over the last seconds of “Powders.” What could possibly be fine? What do you think we’re doing here? Writing songs, maybe. The songs on 2014’s Want were assaultive, voices shouting to be heard; here, like on “Liver,” the space of the song expands and shrinks in the same moment (contradictions in conversations). “Liver” is almost an embrace, the loll-hook of drum, the digging malingering of the voice, then the scream, then the retreat. “Modern Asylums is three-minute pop, but a pop that looks out at a dialogue with a world that won’t happen (Skinner: “I think there is something powerful about taking stock of what “pop” is in your context, and using it judiciously in your art as a way to tap into something that is fundamental and inescapable.”)
The matter of Indifferent Rivers Romance End is fundamental and inescapable. There’s a noise to the pronouns, the pronounced “you” of every song (“But you did bring me closer to something that I didn’t know and you did fill me with the urge to go on”). “You” is the instigator of the noise, a loss and an absence (Frege: “I feel most compelled to write music when I feel ostracized and misanthropic”), but it’s also the writers and it’s also the audience. It’s conversation and it’s contradiction. It’s also why we make and crave an art. The human brain can entertain two contradictory notions in the same instant. The wreck is the broken thing, the wreck is the damaging agent; the reference is the designation that guarantees a relation. By scrutinizing where conversations fail, Indifferent Rivers Romance End finds new humanity not in the wallow but in the endless process of relating to things. “What do you think we’re doing here?” is surrender and perseverance all in the same space. Contradiction. Conversation.