Review Summary: Come on Ian, baby. It doesn't have to be like this.
I think we’re starting to miss the point of rock music. Submitted for your consideration: Ian Cohen’s review of the new Iceage track, “Coalition.” The first song leaked from the terrific You’re Nothing
marks the arrival of a thrillingly beefed-up and tight iteration of the Danish post-punks, but this is of little importance to Cohen compared to the sociopolitical implications of an Iceage song. While he touches briefly on the elements that make the track fun to listen to, “showy drum fills” and “windmilling guitar chords” are mere dressings for the “devastating admission of doubt and sexual identity” Cohen extrapolates from the lyric “Wants me to take her, but blockades run through my veins. Something denies my coalition with you.” The read is shaky at best; Cohen’s only grounding for it is that the guys in Iceage are young and therefore probably confused about relationships. More likely than his read is that in writing the track review, Cohen thought “how to make this punk song sound relevant?” and made a stab at connecting Iceage to gender politics because that’s culturally hip right now.
I don’t mean to pick on Cohen specifically, but a) he just makes it so easy
, and b) his piece is symptomatic of a larger critical situation surrounding rock. More and more you see critics and journalists, as if anxious that their favorite genre will soon be made irrelevant by bleep-bloop-bop and whizwave, invent contexts to make the great indie rock records that continue to come out matter. Take The Men’s Open Your Heart
and Japandroids’ Celebration Rock
: two records whose significance in 2012 sprung from how rock and roll they were, as if riffs, anthemic choruses, and up-tempo drumming have grown so dated that doing them sincerely is a big deal. Both bands were apparently doing something important by playing in a dead mode into nostalgia for days when playing one of four instruments gave you more authenticity as an artist than all the computerized noise-makers of the modern era could possibly grant. Yet what is painfully obvious from interviews with both acts is how bereft of shi
ts they had to give in regards to all that. A year removed, it hurts to see how that whole conversation, which I was wholeheartedly a part of, ultimately meant nothing. When I jam both records on a long car trip, there is no kitsch tear shed now for how beautiful it is to hear electric guitars with earnest distortion. Both records are phenomenal for reasons I and those caught up in the meta-ness of the moment missed. Namely: they’re really fucking good
So is You’re Nothing
. Iceage’s music is too gloomy and brutal to stand for the state of rock, but the tenor Cohen set with the most visible reintroduction of Iceage to the internet makes me anxious. His track review makes me imagine think pieces that make mountains out of lines like “If I could leave my body then I would,” or, as Cohen does, read a chant of “excess!” in a punk song as a “curse against losing control.” This would be a shame. Were this the kind of conversation to emerge around You’re Nothing
, I can see the things about it that matter, the things that are vital to its success as a piece of music, getting glossed over. What’s exciting about You’re Nothing
is not its potentially deeply-embedded personal politics. It is Iceage’s traceable sonic maturation between New Brigade
, an album that threatened to implode at any moment, to the more refined, controlled demolition they present now. It is the consistency that keeps it alive in a way that was disappointingly absent from its predecessor. And of course, it is the monster choruses, riffs, emotive wails, showy drum fills and windmilling guitar chords Iceage have made staples. Allowed to go unchecked, I fear the idiots might miss the killer album for the angles.
This can work both ways, of course. Just look at New Brigade
; in that case, it’s quite possible that the angles made the killer album. In 2011, Iceage’s ramshackle nature was forgivable, even intrinsic to their success. They came out during the year of Kill People, Burn shi
ck School. Having a song called “Broken Bone” and a section of their website devoted to injuries fans suffered at concerts worked hard to their advantage with the whole repressed-masculine-violence kick we were all on at the time. Thankfully that trend died off, but with it went much of New Brigade
’s importance, hindsight rendering the album not much more than a solid shake-up of post-punk by upstarts.
But You’re Nothing
cements Iceage as contenders. You’re Nothing
is the album New Brigade
wasn’t quite, the one by the terrific band we saw during the moments when their massive potential was revealed. The band that gave us the chorus of “White Rune” has now given us the chorus of “Morals,” which seethes with nervous energy yet has a melody that sticks even more stubbornly in your skull. The band that ran on angular riffing and bass lines has finally turned up the rhythm guitar, filling their sound out to increase both the menace they affect in their sleep and the major-key energy they’ve begun to flirt with. Whereas New Brigade
got its moxie from the violent attitude of four sneering jaw lines, You’re Nothing
finds Iceage with the songs, production, emotion, and tightness--in other words, the talent--to pull that off.
What I mean by saying we’re missing the point of rock music is that when talking up a rock album, it’s easy to get lost trying to justify yourself with abstract concepts, especially when the thing you like about it can most accurately be summed up with shit slays, bro
. In the end, those words in italics are all that really matter, and no amount of intellectual circle-jerking should trump that key point. And what does You’re Nothing
have to do with all of this? Not much beyond my anxiety that it’s good enough to be the next album we totally fu
ck up. If people start seriously talking about You’re Nothing
, which they should, I pray it’s because of the music and not the surrounding, extratextual discourse. If it’s saying anything, it’s that Iceage have dropped everything that you didn’t like about them while improving upon the things you did. Don’t take all the fun out of it by over-thinking. This is an album that need not bare relation to the zeitgeist for accolades; it stands alone, a monumental work that declares the arrival of a confident, fully-realized band. Just turn it on and break shi
t, I don’t know.