Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Album Review: Iceage - You're Nothing

Album Rating: A
Yes, it’s true that noise is cool again. You heard it here first. Well, you’ve probably heard it in a lot of places, but that cements my point. Perhaps the demise of gentrified shine-pop is upon us. Noise represents a powerful stream in the history of alternative music, sometimes overtly but mostly as an undercurrent. It has the noteworthy habit of fooling listeners and musicians alike into thinking it’s simple, stupid, and brutish. “I don’t know, It’s just kind of noise,” sigh detractors, much to any amateur noise-maker’s delight. But noise is smarter than we think. It’s not just going spill out of an overheating amp whenever you call! It’s conscious, like us, and it doesn’t like to be treated like a pet. With their sophomore album,You’re Nothing, Danish punker four-piece Iceage have proven once and for all their acute understanding of noise and how to effectively wrangle it, in the process coming close to adding a few of their own words to the rarely-expanding vocabulary of the avant-garde.

“Ecstacy” kicks things off with an immediate sense of dislocation. Individual bits are lost in what can only be described as a pile of sound, compressing then erupting in tight shots of piercing power chords. “Pressure, oh God no, pressure...” vocalist Elias Ronnenfeldt moans sloppily with his deep, accented drawl. Ennui. You can feel it through the searing heat of the feedback on every moment of every track. There could have been hope once, but why think about that now. It’s gone, and You’re Nothing stands as the survival guide for a world with blank horizons. Cynical, yes, but somehow Ronnenfeldt’s performance manages to remain delightfully emphatic. Even if you can’t relate (which you probably will), you can certainly root for the guys. 

Most of the songs here are built around mocking perversions of “hooks”, single-note guitar lines that let you get comfortable just before pulling the rug from under your feet. This is exemplified perfectly on the excellent and persistently infectious “Coalition” single. The pitch-shifting clamoring of the rhythm section plays on constantly in the background, beating tirelessly at the walls of the track, which never quite give way, but almost. There are hints here and there of My Bloody Valentine circa Isn't Anything, but, unlike legions of that band’s followers, Iceage are writing songs Kevin Shields never would have. This is in-your-face music, blatant, withholding nothing. Abstraction only arises in the stormiest of breakdowns.

Make no mistake though, this record is anything but immature. Yes it’s wiry and thin and manic, but its never sloppy. Iceage have grown up, and the increased clarity of their work reveals a definite ear for pop, as well as an eye for surprise that will leave you giving up on guessing what’s next. Whether they’re unfolding slowly as on “Morals” or grabbing you by the collar and pulling you in like the anthemic title cut or the ear-splitting "Awake", these tracks are never boring. Any particular second that may not live up to the glistening high points just serves t reveal the slews of untapped potential that make this band so god damned exciting. 

You’re Nothing is a wobbling train of a record, headed off for a destination undisclosed to its passengers. Iceage, our wayward crew, know the tracks are rusting and wearing away, that boulders and overgrown roots are crowding the steel, ready to knock the whole thing off its course, but they don’t care. They certainly won’t hit the breaks, if they even still work. They’re resigned to watch and smile at the beauty when they’re flipped off the rails, reveling in the pulsing, rollicking excitement of not quite knowing where the chaos will take them. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Track List:
1. Ecstacy
2. Coalition
3. Interlude
4. Burning Hand
5. In Haze
6. Morals
7. Everything Drifts
8. Wounded Hearts
9. It Might Hit First
10. Rodfaestet
11. Awake
12. You're Nothing

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