Diving into the new Wreck and Reference album quickly proves an out-of-body, dehumanizing experience that leaves your floating mental form plopped down at a surreal “therapy” session in which an anonymous figure sits across the table wanting answers — or so it seems. You might just be looking at a mirror. (That’s the rough outline of a set-up used at the very beginning of the FX series Legion, an adult-oriented, extremely surreal adaptation of the Marvel character of the same name, which offers a similar ethereal but incredibly potent feel as this work.) Called Absolute Still Life, the Los Angeles-based Wreck and Reference’s newest offering ultimately presents anything but, tumbling through surreal, hazy soundscapes packed full of jagged edges that feel like they rip you from your grounding and into an alternate world wherein possibilities are open but — in a sense — dangerous.
The band have engaged in some real, immersive world-building, but in a shift from other similar undertakings — this time, you’re at the center of it experiencing the emotionally desolate landscape they’ve crafted. The music is incredibly vividly visual, with lyrics that pack super memorable imagery that ultimately helps define the work as a whole, like that of the “Armageddon dreams” presented towards the latter half. The imagery centers on a personal perspective through imaginative mayhem. After an initial introduction, the band traverse through a cascade of questionable imagery and sound that make it feel like you’ve really found yourself in a dream, even while listening to this album fully awake — supposedly.
Sonically, the band share both harshness and more “accessible” foggy music with irregular, inhuman beats filling in the gap between these two extremes, funneling these pieces together into their probe into emotional desolation. Also packed in there are mostly spoken word style, emotionally despondent vocals that pack a significant deal of personality, adding broad swaths of mental color to the already poignant lyrics that they’re sharing. Ultimately, the band bring each of the threads that they work together into a striking, cohesive experience that stands poignantly defined in its own right rather than overly relying on something else. The sonic art of Absolute Still Life is no doubt unlike much if anything you’ve experienced lately and is well-poised to stick with you.
Out in full July 19 via San Francisco-based experimental music label The Flenser, you can listen to some — and pre-order — below.