February 27, 2013

Test Spins: Iceage, You’re Nothing

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The derivatives and sub-genres of punk rock– post-punk, pop punk, hardcore punk and dance-punk– are just as messy as the original form. But there’s an easier way to categorize this diaspora than with varying hyphenated titles into two categories: those that are more commercialized and refined and those that are more do-it-yourself and industrial. This difference is often subtle with an implication that there’s more than meets the eye, but Copenhagen band Iceage falls so far into the latter category that it highlights just how seismic the difference really is.

The best way to show this difference is contrasting Iceage’s album with the early works of Joy Division. Both groups perplexingly used  fascist symbols: the cover of Joy Division’s debut EP was a drawing of a Hitler Youth; Iceage started shows by flashing Nazi SS Iron Crosses (they’ve stopped and have admitted it was not a good idea). Both started out with brutal, simple punk songs: Joy Division’s “Leaders of Men” and Iceage’s “White Rune” come to mind. But Joy Division then shifted its punk energy into introspection with Unknown Pleasures; this shift became an indicator of where punk would head for the next 30 years — post-punk, gothic rock, New Wave, alternative rock, emo. Iceage, on the other hand, moved into the opposite direction, becoming as brutal and militaristic as possible.  When it was released, debut album New Brigade, with its screeching guitars, tribal rhythms and maxed out amps stood in stark contrast to the slick values of the Brooklyn punk scene.

While Iceage still keeps the DIY noise from New Brigade, its follow-up You’re Nothing is more grown-up. The group’s sound has transitioned into a something more ambient (“Morals,” “Wounded Hearts,” “Awake”) while still reminding us that it can be brutally and purely punk if it wants to be (“Burning Hand,” “In Haze,” “Ecstacy”). The album’s latter songs are focused, with simple guitar melodies — “Burning Hand” uses a simple two-note jammer at its loudest points.

Iceage’s sound applies to everything else Iceage. Its shows are literally bloody. It sells knives on its online store. In this album, the songwriting is much more tight-knit without sacrificing its trademark industrial brutality. Iceage is not the same group of 19-year-olds that came out with New Brigade, but it is not giving up its kicking and screaming. They’ll leave the lame stuff to the other guys.

Original Author: Kai Sam Ng