We’ve all had those nights where our thoughts eat away at us. Maybe it’s a pile of regrets or something we didn’t do quite right or the deterioration of a relationship, but it gets inside your head and gnaws away, making entering the gates of sleep an impossibility. Making it to morning in one piece mentally is a challenge that must be overcome before starting a new day.
These struggles are at the heart of “We Love to Look at the Carnage,” the new offering from Wrekmeister Harmonies and one of their most darkly reflective yet. And that’s saying something. The band’s core of JK Robinson and Esther Shaw headed to a cabin in Woodstock to record this music in isolation, later sending the work to electronics artist Jamie Stewart (of Xiu Xiu) and longtime collaborator/drummer Thor Harris (Swans) to flesh out their parts and make this into a greater whole. Lyrically, that struggle is woven into these pieces. The record, also inspired by Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and his themes of stoicism, grapples with these demons that haunt us but in ways that do not show outward stress and struggle, which is a lot to ask. Maintaining one’s grace and keeping a level of positivity through the pain can help one realize perhaps things are not as bad as they seem.
“Midnight to Six” starts the record in a hush as angelic notes enter the room, and Robinson’s speak-singing lurches along. Keys drip and violins blend into the fray while Robinson calls, “With a pain in my side, all the hours collide along a fault line,” as all of the elements rise into a greater beast, casting an impossible shadow before leaning into “Still Life With Prick Cancer” that begins ominously. The track has a late-night desert vibe as it begins before the guitars punch in, and the noises howl. Spaciness creeps in as Robinson notes, “Locked in silence at 4 a.m., a flower blooms inside my chest, with so much passion it makes the blood sing.” Guitars and strings team up and explode, creating a sonic commotion as rustling sets off warning bells, and the track is buried in a sea of drone.
“Coyotes of Central Park” also eases into its life cycle, guitars bubbling and keys slinking, while Robinson bellows, “See how they dance in the pale blue moonlight, no one hears them, no one knows the savage beauty of having the moon by the throat.” The keys chill while the cold of post-midnight fills your lungs, making the unease tangible and tough with which to contend. “The Rat Catcher” sneaks into the scene, hoping you won’t see it approaching as it carves its path. “Look over there, whether you can see me or not I don’t care,” Robinson prods as the tension boils noticeably, feeling like a trace has been activated as a deep drone delivers thickened darkness, and the calm and echoing chimes mix into closer “Immolation.” Initially, the song feels far breezier than its title suggests. “There’s blood on the tile and a bruise on my cheek, and the hissing prick in my ear finds the time to speak,” Robinson admits as the track takes its time developing its menace. Strings and keys play together and hypnotize while snarled rant causes flesh to crawl. “In the aching silence of your absence, I used to feel love,” Robinson emits painfully, and around him are reverberating tones and swatches of sound that inhibit your bones as the record ends.
The inability to rest amid internal struggle can tax one to one’s very limits, and finding a way through that can ask a lot of someone, maybe even too much. “We Love to Look at the Carnage” is a glimpse into one such incident and the ghosts that sweep in an out of the room while the mental battle is taking place. Wrekmeister Harmonies always was a project that could provoke thought as you take on their records, but this is one that digs even deeper into something that impacts us all.
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