February 17, 2013

Album Review: Iceage's You're Nothing


As far as we have come over the past decade-plus in giving independent music culture its due respect, a band as contrived and reductive as Mumford & Sons can easily walk away with 600,000 units sold during their latest album's first week while a mega pop star with just one good album inside a back catalog of mostly laughable embarrassments during his time as a manufactured boy band member can announce his return to prodigal son-like excitement. And yet, god forbid a DIY punk band mirror some of the better habits of their obscure heroes. Danish fuck-alls Iceage gripped the critical mass by their throats in 2011 with their excellently fractured debut New Brigade, but with their sophomore effort and Matador debut You're Nothing being the press-shy quartet's highest profile release to date, the backlash is already shaping up nicely. One editor at Stereogum, former scribe at Pitchfork and Mumford sympathizer, has long railed against the band, referring to them as a "Petulant Teenage Wire" unworthy of his time. And then there's this stretch of a condemnation that hit the web conveniently the week before its due date painting Iceage as hateful fascists and black metal fashionistas (I guess the dude spent all his time imagining sieg heils that he forgot Elias Bender Rønnenfelt's other project VÅR embraces plenty of proud homosexual undertones.)

These wry attempts to cut Iceage down because of their image are hard to justify, seeing that their breakthrough came about in part because of it. In AS' review of New Brigade, it pointed out that their "DIY marketing is built on a foundation of anarchic doom (See: the pagan logo album art, their fiery self-made music video, the gothic undertones in their promo images) and while on the surface it may seem like an easy bid to replicate the morbid post-punk fashion of Joy Division... these teens sound hellbent on making sure it doesn't come off that way." You're Nothing is just as much a proclamation of cooked up art as it is punk, and this time, Copenhagen's brightest chaos-making exports are pushing their grating corners and divisive talking points to the extreme. Where New Brigade flirted with flames, You're Nothing aggravates the sparks further with an end game to creative a massive youth movement conflagration, starting with blazing opener "Ecstasy," a track that shifts between post-punk's inert heaviness and hardcore breakdowns that reflect Rønnenfelt's volatile internalization of euphoric fulfillment before an threatening psyche consumes him ("What shade / Of joy / Will hit / Me first / I hope / It lasts / A burst / In bliss / Pressure! / Oh god, no! / Pressure!...") It's a hyperactive existential crisis that pours over throughout the listen's energy reserve both as lyrical fuel and crashing atmospherics, as lead single "Coalition," "Everything Drifts" and the LP's title track assign equal amounts of bombast, hook and messy feedback, in turn achieving a new level of accessibility for these kids in the process.

The moments that allow Rønnenfelt some breathing room are the ones where Iceage's vulnerability as controversially imperfect punks become most apparent. "Burning Hand," "In Haze" and "Morals" are You're Nothing's emotive centerpieces that pull the adrenaline pedal away from Jakob Tvilling Pless and Dan Kjær Nielsen's fast-droving rhythms, revealing the frontman's tuneless choruses resounding in self-doubt and woesome self-destruction. Unlike New Brigade's brittle bare-bone minimalism, Johan Suurballe Wieth's guitar buzzsaws through regardless, struggling to find its footing within Rønnenfelt's lead, yet always finding it just in time to reengage a hook. I'm fairly certain the moments deliberately dirtying their aesthetic will be the ones that piss off the quartet's naysayers who balk at their self-imposed amateur feel in song structures and the use of low-end production to enhance them, but if You're Nothing is an artistic rendering of DIY aggression and the scene's anti- values, Iceage captures its every angle and shade regardless of how correct or ugly they are. Whether it's built off an image or not, it creates the same visceral reaction as any other version of punk nihilism would, so why question it?



Iceage's You're Nothing will be released February 19, 2013 on Matador / Escho Records.

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