Iceage - You're nothing

by Amy Putman Rating:10 Release Date:2013-02-18

This is going to sound ridiculous, but I'm afraid of finding out what Iceage look like. I suppose some people might say that it is my duty as a reviewer to find out, but I feel like I've done my bit - I know their history; their names; their music. I just don't know their faces.

The thing is that I'm afraid I'll be disappointed. Their music is throaty and throbbing; energetic and primal; noisy and yet perfectly executed. It suggests a group of cultured barbarians, simmering rawness barely contained beneath a sophisticated veneer. I imagine them by turns as dark, brooding aggressors and as inviolate Vikings, determined and proud.

Either way, their sound is definitely manly, redolent of implied strength, squaring off, defence of honour and rights, but without being political or simply a rush of testosterone. Beneath the vigour and instinct, there is emotional articulacy. 'Poetic' implies something too soft; too roundabout an expression.

Rather, Iceage's music avoids twisting experience into metaphor and simply expresses it with an honesty which implies vast maturity; a rawness which implies vulnerability; a truth which raises it to beauty. What if I discover that they are emo teenagers; or, worse, hipsters? I would still listen to them, obviously, but something would definitely have been lost.

This album is simply brilliant, and sets Iceage up with a difficult precedent to follow. Any existing fans of Iceage should get hold of it, stat. Anyone who is even remotely into metal, punk, noise, the heavier end of goth, or even (bleurgh, megavom) emo should also dive in as soon as possible. If you're in the 'alternative' music scene (rather than just dressing like a doll and wanting to fuck a vampire), then any moment before you've heard this album is a bit o' your life wasted.

It is a marked progression from the last album, sounding more together and polished, but without losing any of their trademark whirling dervish of noise, energy and mixed-up alternative elements. Neither have they lost their signature sound; a frenetic, jarring glory of bounce and scream. In short, it's more of the same, but better.

Rhythms are woven in with greater dexterity; lyrics described with less pretension; elements limited and intertwined with more skill. There is less of the brooding moodiness of their previous music; less dark sweetness. In exchange, there is more involved energy, static-sounding rushes, and punk. More twanging surprises and jarring but incredibly well executed switches and rhythmic changes. All of which is surmounted by simple phrases one cannot help but empathise with.

When, in 'Ecstasy', a forward-driving, surprisingly tuneful, jarring bass-fuelled track, the singer states simply, "Pressure, pressure, oh, God, no", it is evident these lyrics have been carefully pared down to the kernel of the emotion. At the same time, nothing about this album sounds effortful or striving. They have the easy grace and talent of a swan in water, albeit a black swan in a spiked collar. It is as though in the last year, Iceage have gone out into the world and tried to live and experience as much as possible. There is a maturity in this album that is the flip side of the slightly naive jumping of the last one; a naivety only revealed by the contrasting wisdom of this album.

'Rodf Stet' is a revelation; at once angry and deep and not suffering in the least for the fact that it is not in English, and thus incomprehensible lyrically to me (I'm assuming it's in Danish but, not knowing Danish, I can't swear to it). It raises to the surface the traditional punk which has always bubbled within their style, and they manage to make it fresh and interesting. Also good are 'In Haze', which opens gloriously with intricate, part-country, part-early-Led Zeppelin guitar, and 'It Might Hit First', which is beautifully noisy.

Although, actually picking any highlights is a disservice to the album. I almost could have picked three tracks at random and made a case for them. This record is consistent and exciting. It marks them out as a stylistically original band who nevertheless are still learning and improving. A few tracks do sound like you might have heard them before but kind of in a good way, like you're returning to an old love. If I had to be ultra picky - forced at bazooka-point to make a criticism, for example - it would be that the title track is a little underwhelming, slid in at the end like they felt they had to. That said, underwhelming and a sliver sub-par for Iceage is still better than most bands, so don't let that deter you at all.

All in all, this album makes me extremely happy, not only because it is contemporary, innovative, alternative music at its best, but also because it is wonderful to see a band you love somehow get even better. Instead of churning out more of the same thing that made them known, Iceage have refined and matured it, luxuriating in their own abilities. So often bands have one excellent album and then burn out, lose momentum, get scared, or get lazy, but Iceage have proven that they're here for the long haul. I am already eager for their next album.

Meanwhile, I am faced with a dilemma; I could go and see them live later in the month. I would kill to hear them live, but that does mean I will no longer be able to avoid knowing what they look like. Should I reign in the potential of my imagination, or embrace them fully, potential skinny spottiness and all? The mature thing to do is to confront myself with reality and learn to make something great from it; exactly what Iceage has done here. They are present in the now; contemporary, skilful, adept. This is what music in 2013 is all about.

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