Dusted Reviews

Iceage - You’re Nothing

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Iceage

Album: You’re Nothing

Label: Matador

Review date: Apr. 10, 2013

Iceage - “Ecstasy”

Like about half of the people who heard Iceage’s debut LP New Brigade around the beginning of 2011, my head spun ‘round like it was mounted on a swivel. I was counting down the last days of a job I didn’t like, and I didn’t know what would happen next. Life changing, slowing down, and the same activities that brought me joy just a year earlier were empty gestures. I felt my age. New Brigade reminded me of what once lie ahead, in a vocabulary not entirely unfamiliar, but revised by kids half my age and from another country. They had gotten post-punk beyond “right,” beyond the dress-up historical re-enactments that pockmarked the complexion of the decade prior, and started to piece things together on their own terms: a stormy blend of lockstep depression a la Joy Division, the blur of hardcore/grindcore, the ceaseless downpour of black metal. Some songs sounded like tantrums, others like prayers to any superior being out there who could understand. Iceage had given one or two extensive interviews to the first few people who asked, then decided that what they’d said need not be repeated. To all but their friends and a few journalists and industry people in Denmark, they remained a young mystery.

At some point, not long after, I decided to figure out the mystery for myself. In America, Iceage had already been passed from one friend’s label to another, and hearing about it from both ends had caused a bit of a stir, but not enough of one for me to lose my curiosity. Records like New Brigade didn’t come around all too often, no matter how large the pile of Still Single vinyl and tape submissions grows. I was offered the chance to help chaperone the band around on a few East Coast dates, and as my work would allow it, I decided to go. I sold all of their T-shirts in Philadelphia. I tried to defuse a situation where some drunk stumbled into their Pittsburgh show and threatened to “come back here and murder all of you motherfuckers,” and pausing to point at Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, “… including you, Justin Beaver!” I never wrote about it because I went for fun, to get out of the city for a few days, and didn’t want to tell this story any way other than how I saw it, and how I felt Iceage would want it to be told. But mainly, I needed to know what kind of people would create a work like New Brigade.

By the time Iceage made it to America, the rumor mill had started to grind. I chose not to trust any of the accusations thrown at Iceage about use of runic imagery or whatever surreptitious photos their members might’ve included in a zine, and I’m smart enough to know that if someone is acting out in the crowd at a punk show in Europe in a manner befitting a fascist, that they’d have been dealt with. If there were anything they wanted the public to know about them, they’d have told it, and if you didn’t have it in you to ask the right questions, you weren’t going to get the answers you were hoping for. I didn’t see this as an issue of anyone in the band being willfully obtuse – more or less all of the questions fell on Rønnenfelt, their singer, with the rest of the guys just trying to have fun. Rather I took it as them being tired of repeating themselves.

What I learned about Iceage is that they were really sweet young men, very close friends with one another, and were treating this whole thing like a great deal of fun. They spoke English rather well, and kept their native tongue between one another. The first thing they asked us for was to listen to “Strutter” by KISS. Then they asked us what a “strutter” was. From that point on, whenever we were getting into the van, one of them would ask if we could play it again. “Can vee listen to ‘Stvatta’ vonce ve get back in the ze van?” They were stoked to try every kind of fast food America had to offer. Some of them had spent a large chunk of their childhoods watching TV; bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless recounted to us the plot of the movie Stealth late one evening in a hotel room 50 miles outside of Baltimore. Only once did I have to turn around and see what was going on when they were punching each other in the back seat. They were really friendly and outgoing, and interesting to talk to. It was difficult to quantify their shows; some were a mess, some a lot less so. By the time I’d left them, they had tightened up to levels found on New Brigade, and had played four or five newer songs, all of which have ended up on its follow-up, You’re Nothing.

The day I was to see their last show of this first, short jaunt, I was preparing dinner and sliced open my thumb, enough to require stitches. The show I missed was in a sweltering warehouse space in Williamsburg, where one crowd member was injured by a firework discharged indoors, damaging his skull. The tide was already turning on them; any time a guitar went out of tune or the rhythm section slipped up, the community at large was notified. They played the same venue more recently, and again, someone had decided to launch a Roman candle, this one directly at Rønnenfelt, hitting the mic stand dead on and missing his eye by a matter of inches. A few weeks later, I saw a flyer circulated for a local hardcore band that depicted a crudely drawn skinhead getting fellated by a mulleted figure wearing an Iceage shirt. Punks of NYC are apparently upset with having to attend shows in certain places because they feel the hipsters are making fun of them, and Iceage (along with other bands to tumble out of hardcore’s closet, like Merchandise and The Men) are responsible for these scenes commingling.

This is the physical space which is now largely behind me. Life moves beyond it, and all I can do is laugh and shake my head. I met Iceage when their orbit was just beginning and mine was about to end. Roughly two years later, I can’t be everywhere I’d like to go anymore. Especially in these times, culture runs on a loop, which I’ve been running for 20 years – long enough to have seen the scenery pass by at least once, twice and now onto its third go-round. It’s not fun. However, Iceage, knowingly or not, draws a line from where they stand that connects to a past that eluded us both, more than most bands could fathom. That line seems to be the source of contention between participants of scenes.

For as strong as much of the material on You’re Nothing may be, it is an uneven record, without the focus or pacing of its predecessor. Its mix makes for an exhausting 29 minutes, with every instrument fighting to be in the front along with the vocals. You’re Nothing would benefit greatly from a re-sequencing, if for no other reason than to break up the monotony of its second half. It has a dirgelike “Interlude” that comes far too early in the record, and stacks the strongest material in the front. Opener “Ecstasy” marries the torment of black metal with a mostly discofied backbeat, breaking into a DC Hardcore-esque bridge and collapsing into a plodding chorus, Rønnenfelt screaming “PRESSURE PRESSURE, OH GOD NO.” Earlier on, it sounds like he’s rhyming the words “punk” and “funk.” What the hell? If the intent was to subvert expectations, it does so by trading the ultimately listenable qualities that marked New Brigade. It is a challenge to the listener for sure, but one that splits right down the middle between audacity and the mundane.

Really, this might be my problem, because I cannot get over the intro to “In Haze.” I’d heard them playing it at the shows I attended, and was really excited to find it on You’re Nothing. My listening experiences focus mostly on getting through the first four tracks, then playing “In Haze” over and over. Within about 10 seconds, Johan Surrballe Wieth kicks up this incredibly tight riff, over which Rønnenfelt then corrodes an open chord, and it’s like the ghosts of Hüsker Dü have risen once again. I saw them play this song and a few others from You’re Nothing several times over the course of the shows I caught, and the promise they revealed was big enough to fill any room. Iceage has an icon of sorts in Rønnenfelt, but the rest of the band is important in maintaining balance. Without the music behind him, the performance falls apart. People fixate on Rønnenfelt, with his offhanded bashing of the guitar and the baby Frankenstein vocals, when really it’s Wieth who is playing really fast, captivating leads, when it’s Pless and Dan Kjaer Nielsen locking down so hard on the rhythm section that even their off-kilter moments could have little miracles within them. “In Haze” is one, and the urgency over which it’s delivered to its final verse, when Rønnenfelt drops a sly reference to “California Dreaming,” might be all this band needs to do.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they stop. You’re Nothing contains Iceage’s best songs to date, but the more times I listen to this record, the less special it sounds. Maybe that’s how memory works. I’m stuck thinking of the band I met in 2011, of their potential, how capably they dealt with the attention served to them. Maybe time causes us to refocus on the things that have more of a profound effect, and you savor those moments instead of finding new ones. It’s an underlying reason why people stop listening to new bands and buying new music: they’ve been there. You’re Nothing recalls some of the earlier moments of Les Thugs and other bands of the ‘80s that had come through hardcore punk only to play against it, perhaps out of the need to do something less restrictive. Whatever Iceage does next is going to be met with equal amounts of praise and derision, the jeers canceling out the cheers, the band being measured from here on out by the size and shape of the roar. But they cannot, or maybe should not, make a third record in this vein.

By Doug Mosurock

Other Reviews of Iceage

New Brigade

Read More

View all articles by Doug Mosurock

Find out more about Matador

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.