Review Summary: In an attempt to shake up their sound, Iceage strip away everything that made them great.
Some say that a band is only as good as their worst album. That a bad record can irreparably damage not only a band’s future work, but also their past work in retrospect. I don’t pay mind to that sort of negative thinking often. But I would be lying if a truly awful record can’t make the rest of a band’s discography look worse just by association. As tempted as I am to list off a bunch of examples here, I’ll just cut to the chase: With Seek Shelter, Iceage have made one of those records. An album that paints them less as art punk provocateurs and more as a weak bar band cover act.
Opener “Shelter Song” starts the album out on a distressingly plodding note, cribbing notes off of well-known 90s alternative rock acts to an almost plagiaristic degree. The overbearing mixing, the completely unfitting gospel choir in the background, and vocals that try and fail to evoke any actual passion. And this criticism isn’t just relegated to the opener. The entire album feels like a slow, unpalatable mush of pseudo-psychedelic britpop leftovers, well past their expiration date.
It’s difficult to describe just how sterile this album sounds, when the production is so bloated. But do not be fooled, listener. Iceage are employing the same trick that a lot of 90s and 00s alt rock bands pulled way back when. Peel back the layers and you’ll find nothing of substance on Seek Shelter. “Vendetta,” released as one of the album’s five singles, is a poor attempt at alternative dance that has nonsense lyrics that’ll make even the most stalwart Iceage defender scratch their heads in confusion:
“The plates from which we eat from. Life in the trenches of a Ponzi scheme to come. Cutthroat contract jackleg wildflower. A nettle in the nursery humdrum.”
This isn’t to say that Iceage were ever wordsmiths (unless you’re Richard Hell apparently), but any attempt at having some sort of message on Seek Shelter is muddled in a fog of lengthy nonsense phrases and garish vocals. Which brings up another good point: the track lengths. At 9 tracks, 41 minutes, Seek Shelter is much denser than any of their past work and it’s all the worse for it. These uninspired, mid-tempo rock jams are bad enough as the 2-minute 90s alt radio fodder they’re desperately trying to ape. But extend those songs to twice the length and it all just falls apart. By the album’s final track, you’re listening to shrill violin hits that sounds like they were recorded in a bathtub and you’re just praying for release.
I’m unsure what possessed Iceage to make an album as ugly and unappealing as Seek Shelter. Was their drive to make something “different” so great, they forgot to write good songs? Did they hear an Oasis b-side in the van and said to themselves “let’s just do that?” Whatever the reasoning, there is nothing to show for it here. It’s one thing for a band to water down their sound and add something new atop it, but what Iceage took out on this album was an essential part of their appeal. Their ferocity, their aggression, their energy. None of it’s here on Seek Shelter. And what you’re left with is just another set of bones, stripped of their flesh, half-buried in the sand.