Published Jul 20, 2016Wreck and Reference play a skeletal kind of metal. The Los Angeles duo's first two full-lengths were built on the premised that, like Andy Stott, Dominick Fernow and Kevin Martin, they don't need guitars to be devastatingly heavy; skilful sonic sculpting would suffice. With their grip firmly 'round texture and tone, Indifferent Rivers Romance End finds Ignat Frege and Felix Skinner taking full-length number three as a chance at embellishment.
The band's past releases were based on a singular sort of dread evoked simply and eerily by drums, vocals and the void. IRRE is a musical shift for the duo, exposing the techno and hip-hop leanings buried under the muck of the past. Wreck and Reference excel when stripping excess fat from genres, so IRRE's smattering of synth-generated horn and string sounds succeed only when delicately balanced against the barest of bones.
The electronic bass breakdown of "Flight but Not Metaphor" is refreshingly clever; "Ascends" concludes with sizzles, clacks and detuned chords that lift an already standout track to a higher emotional level; "Bullwhips" sounds like a Mephistopheles production awaiting a Danny Brown verse.
It's unfortunate, then, that the rest of the album is filled out by unnecessary flourishes on largely forgettable ballads. Gratuitous melodrama and banal percussion nearly ruin "Powders," while a two-second-long footwork introduction to "Modern Asylum" gives way to the uninspiring synthesizer melodies that dominate the track.
The changes central to IRRE are just as much ideological as they are musical. While the duo are still prone to basking in their well-worn existential angst ("Is this the sensible world or just a sick joke my childhood played upon me?"), this newest offering is also a political one insofar as it asks the question: How is one to proceed in the face of conflict with those one has entered into relationships with?
The album's musical successes and failures are good hints that any answer to that question is bound to be messy, but that's exactly what this pair thrive on. A statue of Heraclitus graces the cover of IRRE — who better than the man who deemed war the father of all things to remind us that it's not Sense and Reference, but Wreck and Reference? (The Flenser)