While Meat Wave’s 2012 self-titled album and 2015’s Delusion Moon dealt in driving rhythms and gnarled guitar stabs, The Incessant opts for something more insular. It’s a record that starts with vocalist-guitarist Chris Sutter singing against himself, his voice bouncing between inflections and channels, a disaffected monotone up front and another popping in the side door repeating the song’s title, “To Be Swayed.” Even after the chorus hits and the band momentarily drowns it out, it comes right back, nagging at Sutter as the band tries to outrun it.
It’s a fitting introduction for a record that, as has been covered, is largely inspired by the end of Sutter’s 12-year romantic relationship. But by no means is The Incessant a breakup record. Sutter doesn’t take jabs at his ex or resort to petty name-calling. Instead, he uses the concept of the Incessant—a lingering Babadook-like figure—as a way to explore the aches and pains of growing up, and how those repressed feelings can take over, stunting personal growth, relationships, and seemingly everything else.
On songs like “Run You Out,” Sutter pushes against his impulses, using the band’s nervy post-punk as a way to release those inward-facing frustrations. Elsewhere, the band matches this unease in its music, as in “Leopard Print Jet Ski,” which is built on a stuttering rhythm and a riff that, at first, feels alien. But Sutter drills into it, pounding the notes over and over until the discord becomes entrancing.
While Meat Wave is no stranger to big concepts anchoring its albums—Delusion Moon was about moon sickness causing insanity in the human race—The Incessant is less clearly defined. In a way, the Incessant becomes a character of its own, undercutting the motivations running throughout the music and Sutter’s lyrics. When the band gives into its least accessible impulses, it’s the Incessant driving them. When Sutter sings about himself being a shitty dude on “Bad Man,” it’s easy to see the Incessant encouraging his behavior. Musically, “Bad Man” mirrors that internal tension, building and building until all that nervous energy explodes into a chaotic, consuming wash that ends just as unexpectedly as it began.
The pair of songs that are the most overt in establishing the record’s themes are, unsurprisingly, the title track and the album closer “Killing The Incessant.” Not only are they two of the most obtuse songs in the band’s catalog—“Killing The Incessant” is just feedback for half the song—but they show Meat Wave’s ability to work outside its comfort zone. Where the band used to get compared endlessly to Hot Snakes, here Meat Wave takes that sound to a place that’s not content with easy payoffs. The band still conjures up hooks, but they’re less immediate, the kind that feel earned instead of effortless.
While much was made about Steve Albini producing the record, his presence is understated, lending The Incessant a sonic clarity while largely capturing the sound of the band playing together in a room. The result is an album that retains all the hallmarks Meat Wave has built without merely repeating them. Instead, The Incessant serves as a demarcation point for both Sutter and Meat Wave. It’s the sound of a band fighting through the darkness in order to find something new and sounding emboldened by the process.