After the past few years of existing in society—one that, with each passing day, has only had its frailty and faults highlighted all the more—Washer has one simple question: What’s the point? Don’t get it twisted, on its third album Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, Washer hasn't suddenly embraced nihilism as an ethos. Instead, the two-piece of Mike Quigley (vocals, guitars, bass) and Kieran McShane (drums) look at the world with a ponderous eye and turn those quandaries into something that might just be worth celebrating.
“The album is, in many ways, me venting frustrations around the drive to make things and the idea that we choose what has meaning in our lives,” says Quigley. “We have the capacity to change what’s wrong. We try, maybe, and some things progress. But it’s not helping. We don’t know how to process grief, or we’re following tangents instead of the root problems. We’re getting much better at this thing that is really a band-aid or actually a distraction or even harmful. What we can do is remind ourselves that we get to choose what has meaning. Not in a ‘think yourself happy’ way, but as a way to give yourself agency in your interactions with the world.”
But for all this intense, heady grappling in the lyric sheet to Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, the music is signature Washer. While the six-year delay between albums may indicate a stalled creative process, that couldn’t be further from the case.“We had planned to tour for a couple weeks in March 2020 and then go straight into recording again with everything tour-polished and whatnot. Obviously that did not happen,” says Quigley. Instead of kicking up their feet and coasting with the material they already had written, Washer decided to commit themselves to making the record even better. Living in two different cities, Quigley and McShane would alternate taking a trip to either Brooklyn or Philadelphia, where they’d practice, write, and dig deeper into what they wanted the third Washer album to become.
The result was that, going into recording, they had a treasure trove of material. They headed up to The Barn in Panton, Vermont in April of 2022 to record with Nick Dooley, who has been behind the boards for every Washer album. Of the 15 songs that populate Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, only four were from that initial batch. That added time only added intentionality to the process, allowing the band to bring Rebecca Ryskalczyk of Bethlehem Steel into the studio to contribute vocals on certain tracks before sending the album over to Amar Lal to be mastered. The result is an album that sees Washer retaining all the loose, ramshackle charms that have always been a core element of their sound, but the songwriting got even tighter.
Take “King Insignificant,” the album opener which lays out the album’s thematic arc, but also serves as an impassioned update on the classic Washer approach. The song builds slowly, feeling like it could unspool at any second, only to explode into a cathartic ending. While lyrically the band is asking big questions, the music feels assured and confident, the product of two musicians whose bond you can both hear and feel. On tracks like “Blammo,” the band wrestles with how the passing of time means you can be progressing—both literally and figuratively—while still feeling like you’re not making the most of those moments. It’s why, after Washer slowly ratchets up the tension for a solid two minutes, when the song explodes in its final minute, Quigley’s screams sound fully unhinged, like everything he’s carried up to that point is finally getting a chance to be released.
At times, Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends feels like a treatise on the artistic process itself. Quigley and McShane acknowledge that their artistic outlet, the very thing that keeps them going, is just a temporary reprieve from the horrors that wait outside the door of their practice space. It’s why, on Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, the purpose of every song—each lyric, riff, and drum fill—is created with intention. As much as the band could be labeled slacker-rock, there’s not a single moment that’s not considered and deliberate. While many things in the world aren’t in anyone’s control, Washer’s art remains steadfastly honest, a buck back against a world that can so often be anything but.
bio by David Anthony