Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Album Review: Iceage - You're Nothing

You're Nothing
Rating: Woof Daddy

New Brigade, the debut album from Danish post-punk band Iceage, was a chilly 24 minute blast of scraping guitars, machine gun drums, sloganeering vocals, and a fully formed aesthetic that was much wiser than the band's young age would have indicated. It was such a perfect encapsulation of their sound it was difficult to imagine what they could possibly do for a follow up, rather than more of the same or completely altering their sound. With the follow up You're Nothing in hand, Iceage have not reinvented the wheel thankfully, and have not given us New Brigade 2, though it is really a more fine-tuned version, with interesting steps in new directions. It is still a concise set of tracks, barely making it over the 25 minute mark, but instead of using the bleak, industrial edged tones of New Brigade, the music tends to fall towards more traditional punk squalls, with more subtle post-punk accents to spice things up.

This go around the songs are tighter and the production is less cavernous, while lyrically the songs keep getting bleaker, the band's views on relationships being almost nihilistic. Kicking off with the feedback heavy fury of "Ecstacy," Iceage ratchet up the energy with singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt's voice going from a whisper to a scream in no time flat, screaming at the top of his lungs: "Pressure! Pressure! Pressure! Oh god no!"

"Coalition" blazes with an almost out of control fury, comparing a relationship to an alliance of convenience, falling apart under the weight of excess.

But even within the dense rush of guitars and drums, you can sense a restlessness with the band, not wanting to keep doing the same thing. There are subtle melodic touches throughout the record that are barely noticeable at first, and even experimentation with different instruments. "Awake"'s blitzkrieg attack of glass shard guitars is underscored by a almost imperceptible early R.E.M./Husker Du melodic core that pushes the song to new heights.

"Morals" is perhaps the most shocking track on You're Nothing, starting off like a boozy, piano ballad from Nick Cave, Rønnenfelt's voice surprisingly open and emotional but gathering strength as the guitars and drums take over. It is such a huge departure from their usual approach to songs that initially it sticks out like a sore thumb, but eventually becomes the heart and soul of the record.

Of course, Iceage are not stupid, they know their signature sound and provide more blistering proof that they are at the top of their game. From the dark and brooding "Burning Hand," brutal guitar assault of "In Haze," or the low end rumble of "Wounded Hearts," these tight, concise tracks never waste a moment getting their point across and exit perfectly. That is one complaint with the record is that is it so perfectly rendered it disappears all too quickly, but that just means you get to go back to the beginning and it hear it all over again.

New Brigade was such a bright spot in a pretty lackluster musical year that I feared in hindsight its reputation with me would be tarnished, but listening to it against You're Nothing pretty much erases any doubt I had. You're Nothing definitely raises the stakes for the band, as it shows them honing their sound but also taking it to new places I didn't think they would ever go. I can't believe it is only the beginning of February in 2013 but we already have the best sophomore release of the year as well as the best punk/post-punk album of the year. And inconceivably, we might have the best album of the year.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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