February 17, 2013

Wreck and Reference - No Youth

Review by Justin C.

Photography by Brandon Gehres

I'll admit my bias upfront: I've never been particularly interested in electronic music. It's not that I think the artists have cheated somehow by not learning "real instruments." I can appreciate the creativity and hard work that goes into doing what they do, but I miss the little touches you get from a person performing on an instrument, like the slight changes in accent and tempo, or even little mistakes. At the risk of sounding too much like a character from The Terminator franchise, I want to hear music performed by humans, not robots. Luckily for me, I listened to Wreck and Reference's album No Youth without having read anything about it. I was struck by the album art, and I knew The Flenser puts out good records, so I just dove in without reading anything about it. If I'd known it was created by two guys using nothing but drums, vocals, and electronic samples, I might have skipped it, but that would have been my loss.

The album can be a little daunting to dive into. The first minute of the opening track, "Spectrum," does indeed sound like construction equipment from outer space. But then a plaintive, clean vocal line begins, accompanied by a lovely melody line played on a stringed instrument that does not exist in the real world. The song builds and adds more, stranger not-real-stringed instruments and black metal-style screeches, but that sense of melody never completely leaves. This level of songcraft is what makes this album so addictive. Having listened to the album, I wasn't surprised to read in an interview that the duo originally wrote the cold, glitchy track "Winter" on guitar, and then transformed and mutated the song into an electronic soundscape. They haven't started with a collection of strange sounds and then tried to figure out what to do with them--they started with songs, and then figured out how to drape those sounds onto the songs. A lot of the music may be electronic, but somehow it still seems like it's being played by a band, not a laptop.

The overall ambience and vocal themes are bleak and sometimes disturbing. The track "Obedience" opens up with the lines, "Where was it that bone met blade / Delicately lowering / your foot into steel trap / Listening for the creak of the spring." The idea of willingly stepping into a bear trap, and perhaps even savoring the brief moment before it springs, is harrowing to say the least. Metal has never been afraid of the frightening or the ugly, but imagery like this can make even the most brutal death metal seem tame. In spite of this, I find the album to be strangely accessible. And at just over 35 minutes, it's not even particularly long, but listening to it is still a very immersive experience.

I could probably go on and on trying to come up with clever ways of describing this music, making up funny names for the non-physical instruments or trying to come up with some combination of subgenres that make sense to hang on this, but really, you should just listen to it.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

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