Wrekmeister Harmonies: We Love To Look At The Carnage (Thrill Jockey)

Chicagoan experimental heavy rockers return with ambitious, dynamic new set

Released Feb 20th, 2020 via Thrill Jockey / By Erick Mertz
Wrekmeister Harmonies: We Love To Look At The Carnage (Thrill Jockey) The ghosts conjured on We Love To Look At The Carnage are the direct product of singer/songwriter JR Robinson’s lurid imagination. But by the time a listener traverses the shadowy hallway laid out in these five songs, the haunting becomes yours as well.

Robinson is the centerpiece (along with Esther Shaw) of Wrekmeister Harmonies (named for a languidly surreal 2000 film by Hungarian director Bela Tarr) an experimental project that has for the last decade served as an aural playground for a rotating series of ambitious musicians. Their list of guests is too long to mention but the result has been a sound packing a bombastic punch, showing an exciting range in genre from new metal to orchestral post rock to drone.

On this record, however the successor to 2018's The Alone Rush the trend toward a more barren and stripped down Wreckmeister Harmonies sound continues. Robinson and Shaw feature their now regular contributor Thor Harris of the Swans while adding Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart for an eclectic mix of electronics. The result works as a chilling set of nocturnal tracks that on one hand retain the band’s signature power, but also feel subtle enough to nod off to sleep.

Midnight To Six opens with gentle pianos, oddly soothing, with a sweet vocal yielding to JR Robinson’s deep empiric spoken style singing. As crude as Still Life With Prick Cancer strikes, its keys sprawl out like wind-rippled sheet with droning, distant guitars and industrial tones coming in to accent the finish. The bass intro on Coyotes of Central Park, the album’s shortest song feels like a lullaby. On The Rat Catcher the guitars finally become louder and dirtier out of which a series of background strings come to life, summoning alarm and warning. It is one of twin epics on We Love To Look At The Carnage, clocking in at over ten minutes.

I have discovered that the best point of view for a Wrekmeister Harmonies’ record is to try and avoid looking too closely at any single track. This band doesn’t do singles. They are so focused on albums, so keen on using the full run time to build monolithic moods and suggest emotions. While this album doesn’t quite get under your skin quite like other Wreckmeister Harmonies albums, the feels it draws out on repeat listens are one of a kind.

That sums up who they are, however, unapologetically unique and striking from any angle. This record will do a lot of things to you, but one thing it will not is disappoint. 4/5