Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wreck And Reference - Black Cassette (2011)

Note: This review was originally posted at Court In The Act, and any reference made to any facets of a blog is linked to that blog.

Due to technology, this EP (released on cassette – hence the name – through Music Ruins Lives) has been sitting in my inbox unnoticed for several months. For that, I apologize. From the name of the band, one might guess that they played post-something, and you’d be sort of right – the influence which jumps out instantly to me is Jesu, in the shimmering semi-industrial shoegazey sense. Jesu are always better on EPs due to their albums becoming boring over their full duration, and I suppose this is the same.
The aforementioned elements create quite a haunting ambient effect – but despite wholly miserable lyrics, the music is uplifting to some degree; consider the musical form of being haunted by a nice ghost who sings melodically rather than attempting to scare people. However, at times the raw production makes it somewhat difficult to discern individual melodies, particularly when notes used are chromatically close to each other. Although this rawness gives a warm feeling – like that of an LP – overall it probably strays far enough to slightly detract from the music. That said, it’s a cassette release, and therefore one should not expect outstanding production.

A point of particular similarity with Jesu in particular as opposed to many other practitioners of this kind of music is the choice to use something roughly resembling popular structure (verse-chorus-verse or variations thereon), particularly on the pleasing opener ‘All The Ships Have Been Abandoned’. The vocal approach, however, which is integral to the quality of the music, as many of the instrumental patterns are a little uninspired, is more similar to that utilised by SubRosa (although from my guess the vocalist here is male). Unfortunately, for the most part they sound a little frail – and in a way that is more weak than ‘woe is me’, something which is particularly evident when they are brought to the forefront of the music by quieter instrumentation.

Speaking of the instrumentation, the email from the band, as well as the label’s website, informed me that no guitars were used in the creation of this, which they are still calling ‘rock music’ (a tag that I would loosely agree with). To be honest, I really don’t see the point in bringing this to our attention. The timbre of one of the instruments used (presumably one of the synthesisers mentioned) sounds so much like an electric guitar (a matter that the mucky production aids little to clear up) that it may as well be one. I’m not criticizing the use of alternate instruments, more so the particular highlighting of this factor which has so little effect it ultimately amounts to little more than a gimmick.

An unusual, but effective, use is made of the juxtaposition of what, at the end of the day, is inherently catchy music (although one would struggle to call any of the motifs and melodies used strictly ‘poppy’, they lean that way at times) with industrial (we’re talking Throbbing Gristle, not Combichrist here) and noise elements in middle eight sections. This blends smoothly rather than clashes awkwardly as one would expect – a true success on their behalf, and something that’s not really been done before (no, Merzbeat doesn’t count).

There is a fine line to be trod between suffocating emotion and tedium in music, and Wreck And Reference manage to trample haphazardly on both sides of that line with roughly equal proportion. Where their style works, it moves towards ‘stunning’, but there are simply too many sections of the EP where I’m looking at the second hand on the clock to justify too much positivity about the good parts. The same feeling comes from some of the odd diversions they go on in the EP – they’re of decidedly mixed quality, and some leave a jarring effect and hamper the continuity of the individual piece or the EP as a whole.

A good last track on a release is probably more conducive to wishes to listen to it again than any other track – that last impression is a lasting one, and fortunately the closer here, ‘A Lament’, is the standout track. The drones and synths bring a shimmering quality to it, and the vocals come across as sufficiently strained to introduce some real heart-ripping emotion to it. This may be so, but many other sections of the EP go through the mind as though it were a sieve, and although this EP shows promise, and future Wreck And Reference releases could be something indeed, to those with a busy listening schedule it’s definitely one that can be passed on with no harm done.