Review Summary: Brrrrr
It’s almost staggering how much can change in just a short year. Since their sophomore effort You’re Nothing
last year, the Scandinavian youngins of Iceage seem to have succumbed to a musical puberty, almost uniformly jettisoning the coarse hardcore edge that had colored their first two breakneck albums in favor of a more mature art-punk overhaul for their third LP Plowing Into the Field of Love
. The group has revamped their sound, tightening song structures into more focused pieces, and introducing a litany of unprecedented instruments and styles, from the lechery-soaked hoedown of “The Lord’s Favorite One” to the forlorn lilt of “Against the Moon’”s twinkling piano and gaslight noir jazz club undertow. That isn’t to say that the visceral hallmarks of the band that made the group so interesting are gone – they’ve just been enhanced. The cacophonies of crushing guitars and crashing drums are still littered all over the album, they’ve simply been augmented by the arrival of horns, strings, keys, and melodies
, all melting together to make Plowing
gorgeous from a songwriting standpoint. “Stay” is a dizzying mess of pain, featuring a deafening thunder of drums and blistering guitars as its chorus, punctuated by curt, angular plucks of a viola, while “Simony” is a glorious crescendo of straight-up punk, but done with a newfound finesse and dazzling melody.
Though they’ve matured on nearly all fronts, the one piece of Iceage that has taken a step back from previous efforts is frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s vocals. Previously a balefire of frustration and anguish, scorching the proverbial plains with unyielding ferocity, Rønnenfelt, in step with his bandmates, has explored the vocal world of melody, albeit to more meager success. The melodious tinge is often well executed and is a more-than-welcome addition to the group’s sound, but the hardcore verve that once colored his voice has been replaced with faux-emotional voice cracking so discordant that it on occasion makes songs almost unbearable. It’s not that there’s no emotion – look to album highlight “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled,” for a debilitated Rønnenfelt crying genuinely for ‘the love you never gave’ amidst clamorous chords and a clean sax – it’s just that the style is so unrefined that it often sounds insincere. Nevertheless, the maturity of the record and the band’s sonic remodeling mark Plowing Into the Field of Love
as Iceage’s greatest achievement to date, and with such a young lineup, the album is a promise of only greater feats and, perhaps more importantly, longevity in the future.