An arm outstretched, supporting the foot of a wine glass as it’s filled with concrete sand. The impulse to ingest a vulgar texture, to consume a substance of physical detriment, to shunt expectation and to depict it all with minimalist composition — it’s an image that represents the music of Wreck and Reference perfectly. And true to its cover, the group’s second album, Want, is a punishing cocktail of coarse and vexatious outburst; it’s abrupt, depraved, and framed by an uncertain emotional longing that bisects every shred of its distasteful nature.
No guitars. No bass. No youth. Wreck and Reference bear all the scars of a metal act, but their music is fraught with a traumatic amnesia as to what that might constitute. As a listener, there’s no reason for trying to find out what happened, for trying to grapple with this mawkish tirade of vocals, percussion, and electronics; one can’t help but embrace this record for what it is and sink into the perpetual misery of its makeup. Its 37 minutes of gut-churning, urban apocrypha are a testament to the incomprehensible gloom inflicted by the Sacramento duo, not to mention the loathing, the sickening sense of self-pity, that listeners are required to bring to the party.
Ignat Frege and Felix Skinner have been dropping material as Wreck and Reference since their inaugural Black Cassette, which was self-released on Bandcamp in 2011. Although they have rebounded from the fuzz-riddled, lo-fi debauchery of their debut, it was evident back then that they were a force to be reckoned with, that the group had the potential to reap the most atrocious of atmospheres. Nailing the combination of Frege’s maniacal, free-fall drum sequences and Skinner’s mixture of groans, chants, and Korg fuckery, they exceeded a number of critical expectations with their Flenser-released followup, 2012’s No Youth.
When No Content came out last year, Frege and Skinner had upped their game even further. The two-track EP demonstrated a distinct fusion of caustic musical styles that continue to struggle and fist their way through Want. Both the demented howls and disturbing organ samples on “Absurdities & Echoes” and the shit-kicking cacophony of “Abhorrence” were ventures along an even bleaker avenue for the band; whether screaming about isolation or leading their listeners into a cavern of fragmented feedback loops, they had set the tone for what was to follow.
Want launches straight into “Corpse Museum,” a whipped-up curdle of bellow, whisper, and incantation. It’s cast forth with the speed and fury of a death metal track while retaining the power to convince its listeners that this is the work of a five-piece band as opposed to a duo. It’s a stark and memorable introduction that grabs you by the gullet and never once lets you go. As each proceeding track plays on a variation of apoplectic vocals and tempestuous moods, they vary drastically in delivery, pace, and structure. From the terrifyingly phlegmatic intro on “Stranger, Fill This Hole In Me” to the mournful dirge that drives “Machine of Confusion,” there is no desire to settle within a specific set of characteristic frameworks — this is an unsettling, pain-riddled collection of songs that’s marked by the songwriters’ torment more than any aspiration to conform. The fact that such grit holds momentum throughout is what makes Want so powerful — it’s what keeps you coming back in spite of all the anguish and horror.
The musical sentiment doesn’t come entirely from any apparent aggression or release — such as can be heard in Skinner’s vocals when he raises his voice to wail — but also from the more somber moments of quiet or lull. Such distressing vibes are brought out in sections of spoken word on “A Glass Cage for An Animal” and even in the sluggish percussion that drags the track slowly out of earshot. And on the blazing torture ballad that is “Flies,” that atmosphere isn’t conjured through the vocals at all; it’s the harrowing rumble of woeful ambient tones that give the album’s centerpiece such an exhilarating edge.
Those moments of dark calm unfold as a delirium trigger by proxy. By the time they kick in, we’ve already heard what Wreck and Reference are capable of, as far as brutish duress and noise are concerned, so waiting for their reappearance is particularly unsettling, like watching a shark fin cutting through the water just a few feet away. And even while in the throes of a blistering rant — the furious outpouring on “Bankrupt” or the distant flailing of “Apologies” — the music sounds technically exquisite, which not only creates an obscure feeling of pleasure, but also makes you realize how much depth there is on this album.
For a band known to deform convention instead of revert to it, it’ll be interesting to see reactions to their tour with Deafheaven and Pallbearer. But whether or not a larger audience effects them, Want serves as both a grand statement in the evolution of their act and a landmark in extreme music. It makes you feel untoward, not because you have been shaken by its writhing chronology, but because you have enjoyed the harshness it conjures and have taken delight in the darkest of personal spaces.