Chicago punks Meat Wave have always operated with a wry aura of irony around them. They embody the new age of post-hardcore while maintaining a Good Boy™ aesthetic. These are the kind of punks that you’d happily bring home to meet your parents but have the ‘tude and tunes to warrant a collaboration with Steve Albini. ‘The Incessant’, however, doesn’t capitalise on the raucous fun of Meat Wave’s previous albums; instead it dwells on insecurity and prioritises gutsy sentiments over original songwriting.
Not that the power trio have totally rescinded from the colorfully caustic roots, naming a track ‘Tomosaki’ after the Japanese adult-film actress is bold even for the genre. The problem lies in Chris Sutter’s campaign to therapise himself through his lyrics. It can’t be understated how impressive making yourself vulnerable on record is but when the song structures suffer, we’ve got to question whether it was worth the risk.
For the most part, the record leans vitally on the same basslines that grumble tonelessly while Sutter flip-flops between overdriven chords and a flurry of ringing eighth-note riffs. Less than can be said for the drum production, especially on tracks like ‘Run You Out’, which crack with a brilliant and tactile reverb that could possibly be attributed to Albini’s presence on the record.
‘Glass Teeth’ and opener ‘To Be Swayed’ reek of the familiar bite and roar of Meat Wave’s peers. The track’s impact wane the same way a joke does once you work out what the punchline is before the delivery.
‘Leopard Print Jet Ski’ and ‘No Light’ bookend what does make The Incessant worth exploring beyond just a surface encounter. The former is darkly comic and feels like it was written holistically rather than a song that pivots on a riff or collection of lyrics. ‘No Light’, on the other hand, is a poignant testament to the comforting self-sabotage of isolation. Sutter concedes, “If I see the light I know the dark is coming” over this discordant and clean chord progression. Elsewhere Sutter drops an absolute gem in “If you think you’ve got it bad, I loathe to hear it”.
This exact smug wince that Meat Wave have used as a creative starting point in the past that’s absent on The Incessant. While it’s Sutter’s most personal venture yet as a songwriter, the self-analysis is drowned in a sea of remedial power-chords. At less than 90 seconds, ‘At The Lake’ proves that you don’t need two instrumental breakdowns and a hokey bridge section to leave a lasting impression. It’s clever, propulsive and, above all, finds truth in its exuberance not in spite of it.
The final track on the album, aptly named ‘Killing The Incessant’ is nothing less than a noise-rock clusterfuck. There’s no build or climax, it’s just distortion and distraction that translates any raw emotion into inflated apoplexy and turns riotous joy stale. The Incessant has a wealth of great ideas baked into the sediment of a wholly unremarkable collection of songs but boasts enough personality to still be worth giving the benefit of your doubt.
Words: Will Butler
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