Review Summary: Equal parts contemplative and contemptuous, Absolute Still Life is a must-listen for fans of heavy experimental music.
Wreck and Reference’s latest effort marks the most drastic change in songwriting between albums in their discography. The balance has been inverted away from furious, blistering vitriol, which dominated earlier albums, in favor of a more hypnotic, meditative approach. Moments of explosive abrasion are still an important element of their sound, but on Absolute Still Life they function as punctuation instead of the baseline. ‘What Is A Gift’ is the only song that sustains cacophony from start to finish, while other tracks like ‘Eris Came to Me at Night’ or ‘In Uniform’ smolder without ever erupting entirely. As the dominant sonic focus has shifted away from bombast, melodic elements have picked up the slack. Resonant bells, piano, and Forest Swords-esque vocal samples have been clarified and appear often. A wide range of sampled tones really fill out the songs and diversify the overall sonic palette. It’s worth mentioning the production here; even at the densest, busiest moments, every layer occupies its own space without becoming muddy.
The album's stylistic deviation is furthered by the shift from acoustic percussion to electronic. While Ignat Frege’s tempestuous drumming has been a central part of previous records, the transition to entirely electronic drums allows the band to create more detailed, layered compositions. Anyone concerned that losing such a central part of the band’s sound need not worry: the experiment pays off.
Equal parts contemplative and contemptuous, the lyrics are strong as they ever have been, grappling with despair, mortality, and nihilism. Well-trod territory for this band, to be sure, but they’re well written, strange, and often compelling. The vocal delivery leans toward spoken word quite often, punctuated by Ignat’s tortured bellow (I don’t think Felix Skinner screams once throughout the entire runtime, another drastic departure). Anyone not on board with Wreck and Reference due to vocals and lyrics probably won’t be won over here, but for devotees this is another solid offering.
Eight years and four albums in, Wreck & Reference manage to keep finding ways to evolve and refine their sound. Expertly crafted, hypnotically atmospheric, and brimming with textural details, Absolute Still Life is a must-listen for fans of heavy experimental music. Don’t let it fly under your radar.