Black Friday: Wreck and Reference revel in depression on ‘Black Cassette’

With it being Black Friday, easily the most evil day of the calendar year – a statement bursting with irony – it’s only fitting that we visit something dark, foreboding, uncomfortable. Some vicious, hate-inducing black metal, you ask? Actually, no. We’re going to pay a visit to a band that has a very unconventional way of making dreary music that pushes the boundaries of what can be labeled heavy metal.

Wreck and Reference are a Sacramento outfit pushing and altering the parameters of extreme music. It’s a two-man operation of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Felix K. Skinner and drummer Ignat Frege in the studio (live photos of the band performing show more folks bringing the noise), and they eschew the whole guitar-based rock formula. Now, listening to their first effort “Black Cassette,” originally released by themselves, then put out on CD by Music Ruins Lives, and now on vinyl via Flenser, would make an uninformed person think there is an army of guitar players on this thing. Instead, the music is created solely by electronics and live drums, and most of the sounds are recreated live by use of an MPC-style controller. For someone intellectually challenged when it comes to discussing the technicalities of recording – I’m a writer, not a player, unfortunately – that’s about the best I can do trying to describe this. But yeah, won’t matter once you place this sucker on your turntable and get lost on their depressing, stormy sounds. You won’t care how they made, only that they did make it.

It’s also difficult to really pinpoint influences or like-minded bands. There are little bits of piece of all kind of groups, both metal-friendly and not, such as Slint, Swans, Killing Joke, the Cure, Sonic Youth, New Order, and Bauhaus, mostly because the vocals sound delivered by some kind of warped second coming of Peter Murphy. And Murphy isn’t even dead! It’s creepy and downtrodden, and if you’re in one of those moods where the next thing you grab is either a tranquilizer or a knife, you might make the wrong decision when hearing “Black Cassette.” It won’t make you feel better about your life. But maybe, and that’s a big maybe, you’ll be able to relate and use this recording as some sort of catharsis.

The recording is EP length, with six songs that move in, make their point, and get out. There’s no lingering or extended drubbing common with most bands that get any portion of the doom label, and those traits certainly exist here along with post-rock, post-metal, goth, no-wave and plain old expressive indie rock. One might even find these songs catchy in their lo-fi gaze and noise blanket, and there are some unique, catchy vocals hooks that might even have you singing along, once you decipher the words. The singing is clean, warbling, and psychologically monotone, with only fleeting moments of shrieks and shouts, such as on chaotic closer “A Lament.” In fact, had these guys decided to go straight with their approach and just done an honest rock record, they might even make a compelling case for radio airplay. But their sound is too dangerous and muddy for a mainstream drone to absorb.

The collection opens with “All Ships Have Been Abandoned,” a title that should clue you into the despair ahead. There’s a weird melody drowning below the sizzling feedback, and vocals sound like they’re coming from a lost soul buried under floorboards. “Surrendering” is somber and expressive, washed out and unhinged, and eventually a doom-choked cloud floats in and hangs over the proceedings. “Evening Redness” has wail, warble and a fairly deliberate pace that appears eager to drub you into submission; and “Desire, Ether” sounds a little bit like Xasthur’s more recent work, with hypnotic meandering, weepy vocals, and dark feedback wails that pierce you. The only complaint I have about this song is that it just kind of ends out of nowhere, sort of leaving you hanging. But it’s a very tiny hang-up.

“Black Cassette” may have some traditional rock traits that could sway a few less-daring listeners or those who grew up digging alternative rock in the 1980s, but any glisten is pinned underneath of planet of chaos that might also scare the same people into the hills. For those who like some danger and adventure in their music, along with a caterwaul of negative emotion, this could be like an awakening for you. I find “Black Cassette” to be a really strong, really listenable album that’ll be a part of my regular rotation. I’m even going to play it for my non-metal-loving wife, because she’s daring otherwise and I think she’ll be into this. We’ll see how that goes. I’m also looking forward to the release of the band’s next work in 2012 that also will be out on Flenser. Until then, there’s enough here to keep me wholly depressed through the winter.

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To buy “Black Cassette” on CD, go here:

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