Wreck and Reference- No Youth
Deconstructive, ethereal, dripping with a noxious mix of disgust and listlessness, No Youth is this years sound-track of total defeat. The California twosome of Wreck and Reference have been rolling on a pretty big hype machine since their demo Black Cassette, but No Youth is a different monster entirely. It heralds the arrival of one of Extreme Music's new titans while exemplifying the limitless potential of a project devoid of barriers, genres and fear. No Youth is a Universe of sound that expands beyond the horizon into reaches of the void that have rarely, if ever, been tread. I don't want to use too much hyperbole: No Youth is a triumph of an album and easily one of the best records released this year and this decade, but in and of itself it might not reach the truly hallowed lands of immortality. What makes No Youth so completely fascinating is the aforementioned formlessness of the album and the fearlessness of the song-writing. No idea was too big or intimidating for the band, yet the album remains focused, controlled and melancholic. No Youth is the ultimate piece of cathartic expression and flawless craftsmanship.
It's utterly amazing to think that No Youth is an entirely electronic album, considering the massive drone and deluge of static and feedback that comes whirling and whipping from the speakers. If we are moving into a future of purely electronic music, then No Youth may be a defining release, though the bombastic, explosive drumming on the record keeps it grounded in the real and tangible. The percussion here is massive and powerful, thundering across the tracks and keeping the often dream-like compositions drowned in hopeless reality. "Nausea," easily my favorite track on the record, is a perfect example: a slow, Drone intro gives way to an almost oil-and-water mix of slow, ethereal Swans-esque madness driven by thundering Darkthrone-style blast beats. I can honestly say I have never heard such a dynamic combination of sounds before, and No Youth is over-flowing with these odd, exhilarating moments.
If there is any obvious influence on No Youth and Wreck and Reference in general, it has to be the Swans. "If" being the key word, but there are a handful of similarities: the utter hopelessness of the vocals and lyrics and the mostly short, concise tracks that still drip atmosphere and anger were both trademarks of Michael Gira's signature project, and both elements are featured prominently on No Youth. But so is the deluge of static-y, dense Drone/Doom, and at times Wreck and Reference effectively mix both, such as on "Cannot," which dances between somber, dark spoken word poetry to soul-siophoning Doom. Once again, everything meshes so flawlessly that this seemingly awkward approach to songwriting feels completely natural and focused. The atmosphere of self-hatred and melancholy remains wholly intact, no matter how ferocious of defeated the music gets.
No Youth is a damn difficult album to talk about: it's easy to heap praise on it, yet tough to pin down Genre classifications are very hard to come by listening to No Youth, and trying to prepare a listener for the experience is near impossible. No Youth is an album that just kind of has to be experienced, and the outcome of the experience will be colored by the one who lives it. No doubt some will find all the sopping wet depression and self-inflicted damage as overkill, or even a bit silly. Others will be touched deeply by it, and relate with the hopelessness and cathartic intensity of the album. I can say unequivocally that No Youth is not for everyone. It's not accessible, rarely melodic and never fun.
It all comes down to craftsmanship and creativity. Some have one, some have the other and a rare few albums have both. No Youth clearly has both. The natural barrier of entry in how dark and defeated the moans and tones No Youth features leads to tough sailing even for the heartened and curious. No doubt some will be unable to make it into the deeper layers of No Youth. I can't say that I blame them. But for the most masochistic, driven listeners among us, No Youth is a can't miss album. It's an album that doesn't even feel like it ever had any boundaries in the first place, guided only by an unseen hand which dutifully orchestrates the madness and sorrow into a handful of notes and lyrics that evoke a sickened spirit of humanity.