Borne out of what Meat Wave frontman Chris Sutter describes as "a crescendo" of overwhelming emotions, The Incessant, the new album from the Chicago punks, is a personal examination of Sutter's post-breakup reality, which was 12 years in the making.
"When you're in something like that for so long, it doesn't shield you from the world, but it softens your reality," he says of the relationship. What followed the dissolution of that was a period Sutter likens to Rumspringa, the point in an Amish person's life where they're permitted to live without restraint. "I was just going nuts, making all the mistakes that you could make. And that led to a bunch of shit."
This sensory-overload served as an anesthetic of sorts against a well of anxiety and confusion that gradually seeped into Sutter's life, consuming him; it's the type of self-doubt that "stems from living recklessly. And selfishly. And regrettably." The Incessant is about the manifestation of that destructive guilt and deciding to confront it rather than surrender to it, abandoning the instinct to try to outrun or ignore the truth. It's the sound of the wheels starting to wobble before flying off entirely, careening into self-loathing and loneliness, before eventually coasting to a quieting halt, 12 songs later.
Following up on 2015's Delusion Moon, which marked the band's first release via SideOneDummy Records, Sutter, along with bassist Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wizniak, has created something that is dark and desperate and anxious. Most of all, it's wracked with acute urgency. It's a hunt for truth and resolution facilitated by confrontation, usually pointed inward. The record's dissonant, jarring explorations reflect the claustrophobic discomfort that produced them.
The Incessant is personal yet applicable, intimate yet political, blistering yet soothing. It's both the healed, ready-to-fall-off scab, and the wound that produced it. Meat Wave's ability to weave the two together has produced a timely and insistent narrative, an arc that you can trace through the record to its serene final acoustic moments. It's ultimately cathartic, but that catharsis is only achieved because Sutter had the courage to confront and air the tidal wave of shit weighing on him. The Incessant is ultimately encouragement for us, in our own way, to do the same.
The Incessant will be out on February 17, but you can listen to the record in its entirety below. Order it on vinyl and digitally.
Noisey: You've been very open about mental health before, like on Delusion Moon. Were there still nerves about having to begin speaking about this publicly?
Chris Sutter: Yeah, there were. It's putting yourself out there to people that you don't necessarily know you. I never wanted it to feel like a "woe is me"-type of thing. A lot of people go through this stuff. There was a point where we started writing it and I was feeling really uneasy about it, and felt like we shouldn't go through with [it]. I just didn't want it to be all about me and how I was emotional. But after a while it just felt like the wrong thing to do if we weren't going to go through with it, 'cause you kind of want to honor that vulnerability. It would be a disservice to myself and the music to not just be honest and write exactly what I was feeling.
You've mentioned this record being explicitly rooted in a desire for truth as well. How does that idea of truth play into it for you?
It came down to self-reflection and a desire to improve myself. I felt like delving into things that I felt very uneasy about, and bringing that to the surface helped me. I hope it might help other people perhaps. On the record, there are themes of escapism and kind of hiding behind a mask. I felt like I needed to step out from that in my life and in my music, and uncover some things about myself that weren't conscious to me from the get-go.
The content on The Incessant is so personal to you, but with music everyone will interpret and contextualize it the way they want to. As well as the personal, I heard it as distinctly political because I'm so overwhelmed and terrified with everything that's going on right now. Is it at all discomfiting that people will be hearing these immensely intimate expressions and hear them as political, or is that maybe a strength?
I think it's a strength because I really enjoy people's interpretations of the music. I think it's relatable in the sense that the concept of "the incessant" can be interpreted as more ambiguous. People can kind of form it to whatever they're going through, I hope. I think it is really fitting, and that feeling of overwhelming-ness, or this oncoming onslaught of insanity? We're living in that right now, so I hope people can take it for whatever they'd like.
On tracks like "Leopard Print Jet Ski" and "Bad Man," you have these jolting, violent riffs, title track "The Incessant" has this ominous, apocalyptic chug, and "No Light" sounds like a moment of despair. Were there concerted efforts to reflect different emotional states throughout the record in the music?
I think so. It's kind of all about soundtracking a situation or soundtracking a concept, so I was really into that when writing this. The idea comes first, the feelings come first, then it's trying to pinpoint that sonically, and also just to give the record some more texture and more colors, like life. Things are crazy, and I tried to reflect that more so on this record, just the kind of unexpectedness of life.
It almost feels like there's a narrative in the composition of the music and the track listing. It does almost feel like a film score in its focus on those themes.
I think you can kind of follow the tracklist and follow the album as sort of narrative, which wasn't [initially] intended. Actually our label, SideOneDummy, suggested this tracklist. They're such an incredible label, they all sat down and listened to it. We were so deep into it that it was hard for us to come up with sequencing and tracklist, so they kind of found this narrative that hadn't even occurred to me at that point. So I feel like you can kind of follow a story there.
It does feel like a really visceral mental and emotional experience, right down to closing track "Killing The Incessant." The name itself suggests conquering this in some respects. Does it feel like you get to close the book on this chapter with this record coming out?
It does feel like that. Time has really aided itself, since writing this and recording it. I'm just trying to be a good person, ya know? I remember writing that song. My dad lives in Denver, and I was sitting on his deck. It was one of the last songs I wrote [for the record]. I had just watched this video of a monk. I'm gonna butcher this, but he was talking about your hands, and how your hands don't discriminate against one another. If your left hand is hurt, your right hand will kind of grab it and take care of it. If you're more skilled with your right hand, your left hand will do what it can. I guess that kind of equates to shedding your ego and shedding judgment and shedding shame, and just living presently and moving on. I think that I was trying to feel it while writing that; "Gotta move on, gotta live life." As time goes on I'm feeling a lot better. I'm feeling a lot more present.
At the end of "Killing The Incessant," after this monstrous crescendo, there's the acoustic guitar outro to offer this kind of cathartic wind-down into calm. It reminded me of finally learning to be okay by myself after a breakup. It felt definitively singular. Is that reflective of you achieving some peace after this process?
Yeah, in a way. I took it more as kind of the sigh of relief, of overcoming something. Overcoming these feelings and kind of dissociating from shame and from these crazy emotive fits. So yeah, I really like that interpretation, that's great. It was really just kind of opening the door, stepping out, and into a new chapter.
Making music is such a personal process, and then you play these songs night after night to rooms of people. Is there some kind of catharsis to be found in that, to be sharing those every night, or is that challenging?
Yeah, I think it is really cathartic. Especially to be more distanced from it now. The last time we played, we were playing "The Incessant," and I was getting choked up singing [it]. We've been playing it and playing it and playing it, and I don't know if it was the energy in the room, or just the mood I was in, but it kind of hit me in a newer way that I hadn't really experienced in a long time. It felt really good and felt really emotional. So I'm excited to start playing these [songs] more and see what kind of new catharsis or new emotion they can bring.
Luke Ottenhof is a writer living in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter.