Pressing Concerns: Washer, ‘Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends’

Release date: April 28th
Record label: Exploding in Sound
Genre: Garage rock, post-punk, punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: King Insignificant

I’ve never talked about Washer on Rosy Overdrive before, but then, the Brooklyn/Philadelphia-based duo of Kieran McShane and Mike Quigley had been pretty quiet for the duration of this blog’s existence up until quite recently. A few years prior, they’d established themselves as one of the key bands on Exploding in Sound Records’ roster with their superb debut album, 2016’s Here Comes Washer, and they followed it up a year later with All Aboard, a record that kept the great parts of their last one and expanded on them, making it one of the best albums of the decade. The third Washer album has been one of my most anticipated records for some time now, even before it became apparent that it was (partially due to the pandemic, as well as the realities of its members being split between two cities) going to take over a half-decade to be released.

Six years later, though, we have Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, and the first seconds of opening track “King Insignificant” immediately hit on the feeling of listening to a Washer album in a way that instantly bridges the gap. Washer have always been a duo, and they’ve always sounded like it–they certainly fit in well with their labelmates like Pile, Kal Marks, and Rick Rude, but they’ve always been more stripped-down than any of those acts. They’ve made up for it with an intense energy and strong songwriting; All Aboard experimented just a bit with opening things up and letting their music hang out, going out on a limb to snag another dimension to their sound. Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends is not a radical departure for Washer–the instruments were still entirely played by McShane (drums) and Quigley (guitar), with a few guest vocalists (from Rebecca Ryskalczyk of Bethlehem Steel and Dana Murphy) being the only outside contributions. 

On Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, they’re still an indie rock band that takes influence from punk, post-punk, post-hardcore, and noise rock but with an undeniable pop aspect to most of their songs. So, Washer haven’t abandoned their core sound–what they’ve been working on, it seems like, is packing it with as much as possible. Lyrically, Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends puts Washer in step with some more of their big-picture indie rocker peers–what Bad History Month does with sprawling post-rock and Knot has done with jittery math rock, Washer roll out in bite-sized, two-minute indie punk songs. Tons of songs on the album–“The Waning Moon”, “Threadbare”, “The Itch”, “Blammo”, and “Grift on Repeat” are perhaps the more obvious ones–grapple with thoughts on the passage of time, difficulties in holding on to motivation, and failing to meet one’s own expectations and live up to one’s self-image. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends is an album about making an album, but I have to imagine these themes were on the band’s mind in the interstitial time between records.

Quigley can still work himself up to a holler over the course of a song, and Washer are adept as ever at creating a runway for this, from the slow-building opening track “King Insignificant” to the wheels-off “Not Like You” to the out-of-nowhere final refrain of “False Prize”. Washer combine their jaunty pop side with some of the record’s deeper concerns throughout Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, with “Death of an Empire” sticking out in particular. In this tune, Quigley cheerfully suggests that “maybe we should be lighting things on fire,” and points out the irony that “all the wrong people love themselves” (in the context that, in this dying empire, the ones holding onto and believing they’re deserving of the waning power are the ones making the rest of us miserable).

Washer save their most musically dour moment for “Answer to Hell”, which is a harsh look inward of a song (“I’m alive, I’m alive / I’m a decomposing shell,” Quigley sings soberly). Even ugly reminders that one is still alive count–Quigley hits on this again in “Blammo”, where he’s an old man watching time “slither, shake and writhe past [his] eye”. “It’s how I ease the doubt that I’m alive,” he remarks upon this sight. The parts of Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends that aren’t dedicated to fumbling toward this realization are dedicated to fumbling forward armed with it, and figuring out what that means. Maybe it means that you embrace failure because it can’t wink out your existence (“Fail Big”). Maybe it means that you try to reach out to other living beings even though you know you’re not so good at it (“Cheap Therapy”). Maybe you write a record about all of this, showcasing exactly what its title describes. (Bandcamp link)

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