Evolution is an odd process. Just look at California duo Wreck & Reference, who have shed some of the more metallic intensity of their past recordings to go into a more introspective place. Similar to the change Muscle & Marrow went through on their album Love earlier this year, as the metal influence fades a clearer narrative voice can be taken on. Maybe it’s part of growing up—maybe metal was just a phase for these guys. The emotive screamed vocals do appear on the first track, but then again screaming alone doesn’t make a band metal. They have never been a guitar band in the first place, either; they have pitted their synths against a drum kit to become more sonically heavy. New album Indifferent Rivers Romance End finds them attempting to create more emotional oppression than sheer heaviness.
A great deal of the growth is displayed in their vocals. Sometimes reminiscent of the plaintive vocals of King Missile’s John S. Hall, this tone of voice sounds like the result of ponderous lyrics being overanalyzed as they were being written. In turn, the band creates more atmospheric backdrops on songs like “Flight, but Not Metaphor” which coasts on a krautrock throb. They take this album into some new back alleys with even hints of a “trap” 808 thumping into the ending of one song, winding a deep space groove into a narcotic-drenched mind. The mood goes gray with the ambiance of “Liver.” There is a similar tone shared between “Manifestos” and “Modern Asylum,” though “Manifestos” captures a wider sonic spectrum as it builds into a heavy section. The tortured vocals continue on into the looser atmosphere of “Bullwhips,” while throat-wrenching yells open the door for ”Languish,” which gets entangled in a barrage of drums and Philip Glass-like string synth pieces.
I am perfectly willing to compromise with a band and take a trade off of heavy for darker any day of the week, yet by the time we end up on post-punk croon to “Unwant” I begin to wonder if affordable medical care has led the band to get proper meds, rather than continue self-medicating with drugs. It could just be “adulting” that made them too busy to wallow in depression for the sake of art. Either way, the next stage of their evolution has set in. At this album’s best moments they allow themselves to indulge in a more spaced-out version of darkwave and slather it in atmospheric prog rock. What hasn’t changed is how some of the songs work off a similar drone and what you hear is what you get as they just jam off of a single synth pattern. I’m still on board and look forward to where they go from here—they’re in a new place, but there is no good reason not to hang around as their evolution continues.