(Flenser Records, 2012)
Have I got a treat for you this morning. I don’t even know how classify this one. It’s harsh and noisy, and remarkably awesome. I love it, in this weird, sick way. I mean, take a look at that cover and tell me you can love it in any way other than sick. Seriously – No Youth as the title + cover image of teen in bathtub with, likely, slit wrists (OK, the wrists aren’t actually slit, but what do you see when you look at that?) + black blood filling the tub = a potentially dark trip through the psyche. (And hmm – black blood, eh? …Black Veins, eh?) All that’s missing is some sort of satanic talisman adorning the sleeve or the band’s name writ large in metal script and the image is completely sold.
It’s not like that though, and it’s almost certainly better for it. We’re not talking about straight-up death or black metal, or even screamy emo angst. What separates Wreck and Reference from a run-of-the-mill band is their willingness to incorporate all kinds of influences into their overall style, and processing those influences into a refreshing and innovative package. No Youth, despite its relative bleakness of sound and vision, struck a weird harmonius chord in both the metal lover and experimental enthusiast in me, and I’m invigorated as a result. Wreck and Reference have done in me the opposite of what they likely intended: gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling all over.
I guess my reaction isn’t really that weird considering the source of my discovery of the band – a tweet from extreme sonic masterminds Deafheaven alerted me to Wreck and Reference, and given the former band’s penchant for pushing the black metal envelope to incorporate all sorts of disparate elements, it’s easy to see how these two bands could exist on a similar plane. I hate that I’m going to do this, but bear with all the relatively empty stylistic pigeonholing – but where Deafheaven is primarily known for bridging the gap between black metal and the indie rock community with healthy doses of mystified shoegaze, Wreck and Reference’s biggest “crossover” appeal is in its embrace of goth and noise for atmospheric accoutrement. (Yeah, goth and noise – that’s why “crossover” is in quotes.) I’m overly simplifying on all counts, but that’s just me – the point is to listen for yourself, isn’t it?
I’ll still indulge my vocabulary and toss a few choice adjectives, nouns, and verbs your way, but not before I wonder as to the reason behind these Californians’ slog through the dumps. Aren’t all West Coasters happy, active, tan, and beautiful? That’s what those tourism commercials tell me anyway, but this is a completely different outlook than what I’ve come to expect, and as someone who’s never been west of Texas and perched solidly on the East Coast, jaded and angry and sullen (OK, none of those things), I have to question the motivation. Not that I really care one way or the other, since Wreck and Reference obliterate any real line of inquiry with choice sonics, and I end up forgetting that California is even in the picture. I passively ruminate, is all.
But yeah – there’s so much going on here that each track could be its own launching point for an unrecorded album, yet remains deftly tied to the stylistic whole. I mean, the first three tracks could have been recorded by different bands, even though they’re all unmistakably connected to this album: “Spectrum” opens with spoken word synth-doom, and progresses to metal shrieks and slashes, a perfect introduction to No Youth. “Nausea” follows a similar track, albeit with a Peter Murphy soundalike at the mike, punctuated by periodic distortion stabs. Continuing the funereal motifs, “The Solisticial” coaxes a bit more theatricality from the vocal performance – think Placebo’s Brian Molko if he fronted Type O Negative, and as weird as that sounds, it works – yet remains firmly grounded in rugged dirge metal.
It’s almost impossible not to do a track-by-track review here, as each is, as I’ve mentioned, so unique. As the album progresses, there is a continuing air of despair and desolation, and it shows in the performance and stylistic path. It culminates in the almost straight noise tracks “Stage Collapse,” sounding like the titular event in slow motion, and the Bermuda Drain–esque “Edifice of Silt,” building slabs of Prurient-inspired noise underneath a closing spoken passage. To tie in Cold Cave further, “Inverted Soul” bears the scarred-throat bellowing perfected by Wes Eisold in his time with Give Up the Ghost and Some Girls, a more emotive delivery than the shredded metal screams. Instruments grind and churn on “I Am A Sieve,” its poetic lyrics, as others, betraying the depths of emotional hollowness uncovered in the face of disintegrating relationships. It’s full of self-loathing (I think – I’m no poetry expert). And I can’t leave this column without mentioning the dynamic switcheroos in “Cannot,” opening on dark strings and spoken word vocals, briefly calling to mind the darker passages of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s early work before a heady black metal bombast. The strings peek back in midway through the track like disgusting cold sun through hazy winter clouds. (How’s that for poetic license?)
Can you tell that I’m sold? I’m invigorated, as I mentioned above (in case you can’t remember). I’m not often floored by much, but Wreck and Reference have done it with No Youth, and I’m hoping for more of the same – well, more of the same genre-pushing experimentalism anyway. They playing the East Coast anytime soon?
RIYL: Deafheaven, Prurient, Bauhaus, Some Girls, Black Veins