Album Review: Iceage – You’re Nothing

iceage-youre-nothingDanish punk prodigies Iceage have returned for a sophomore effort, You’re Nothing, on one of indie rock’s most stalwart labels, Matador. With both their debut and second albums, the band seems to find wide acclaim for their brash, abrasive cacophony of heavily distorted guitars and caustic, growling vocals. However, it’s only fair to say up front that this is not the melodic, hooky power pop and punk of recent critic favorites like The Men, Japandroids, or Parquet Courts. The members of Iceage are true-to-the-core punk rockers.

So, I’ll apologize to them and you for delaying this review another paragraph (or so) to use the album as a platform for discussing reviews of “difficult” records. Some listeners will hear a few seconds of You’re Nothing, and their relationship with the album will be over before it begins. As someone who has once loved punk, but who doesn’t consider it a sizable portion of my musical diet, the task wasn’t as difficult as that. Still, I can’t say I was immediately drawn in, but over the last couple of weeks with the record I found myself enjoying it more than I expected, and I surprised myself by wanting to re-listen to parts or tracks. It strikes me as difficult terrain to call something excellent or essential when it’s clear that a large portion of the population will never see it that way.

The conundrum really raises the overarching question of the intended audience of an album review. I guess the hope is that it reaches fans, of course, but also might resonate with an open-minded musical explorer or two. In particular, if this review is intended for punk enthusiasts, then it’s not so difficult, because You’re Nothing is an outstanding album. For the more reticent listeners—be patient; You’re Nothing is an album that slowly reveals itself to you, its subtleties and obscured dramatics.

Beginning with two of its best tracks, You’re Nothing grabs hold immediately with a swirling mess of guitars, frenetic drums, and slurred lyrics. Contained within those slurs lies emotive depth similar to Joy Division, from whom the band’s name is likely culled, as lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sputters, “What shade of joy will hit me first/ I hope it lasts/ A burst in bliss/ Pressure, oh God no, pressure.” On the final words, the mix collapses into a minimal buzz and pounding kick drum, changing the song’s tempo drastically. Although that shift doesn’t sound like it would be a hook, it’s one of the moments that haunts you days later.

Although the openers are raw, the album balances on its two longest songs, “In Haze” and “Morals.” Underlying walking guitar notes beneath the ostensible distorted buzz of “In Haze” are one of the record’s catchiest elements. The track is followed by the marchy, entirely accessible “Morals,” which features the most clear vocal cuts on You’re Nothing.

Moments such as these are the real treat of You’re Nothing, and since they are the album’s most developed songs, it serves to reason that this may be the direction of Iceage. You’re Nothing won’t win everyone over, and even those that appreciate its greatness, won’t keep it in the rotation of their playlists. However, Iceage has breathed new life into punk rock and by inhabiting the channels of modern indie-rock through Matador, have piqued the attention of a vast new audience.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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