Album review: Iceage “Plowing Into The Field Of Love”
Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on October 11, 2014
Punk has always been a genre that has unapologetically confined itself to a set of well-defined rules. I guess that´s kind of the point of punk, back to its origins with The Clash and Sex Pistols. For all the anarchy and DIY aesthetics of the scene (which I love – I should say) seldom will you see experimentation from the typical punk core to the extent you might in other rock or electronic genres. Step up in 2014, then: Iceage.
Plowing Into the Field of Love, the Copenhagen punks´ third full-length, didn´t take long to emerge in the wake of the band´s busy 2013, in which they released the excellent LP You´re Nothing and an EP, To the Comrades. Like their debut, You´re Nothing was a sub – 30 minute ripsnorter of a punk record, in which frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt wailed and wretched through an unrelenting dirge of gritty, black instrumentation. It was nihilistic and hedonistic – the aural realisation of methadone – but it was airtight and Rønnenfelt´s talent as a vocalist was clear. The consensus was that this (incredibly young, it should be noted) was not your run of the mill guitar slashers.
With this knowledge, to listen to the country plod of lead single “The Lord´s Favourite” (yes, country, you read that right) is a confounding and refreshing experience. In the space of a year, Rønnenfelt has transformed himself from the voice of the downtrodden and dispirited into a genuinely fascinating and unpredictable lyricist. He could be a poster boy if he tried – just check out the video – but you never really believe it´s more than an ironic dig when he proclaims that he´s “positively God´s favourite one!”
If The Lord´s Favourite is the record´s curveball, How Many is the manifesto. It begins with Rønnenfelt apparently clearing his throat, and progresses into a defiant, meaty punk song about his general dissatisfaction with his affairs. The difference here to the previous records, though, is that the melody is very much the focal point. There´s a nice twinkly piano in there too. And a couple of times he proclaims, “Such a perfect lover I could become!” Perceptibly, there´s no place for these things in a punk record.
This is one of those albums where not one track seems less thought out or warranted than the previous. For the most part, Rønnenfelt still spits and snarls with the same languid hostility, but every song is adorned wonderfully with diverse and rich instrumentation we´ve not seen from the quarter before. There´s “Abundant Living” complete with its distinctly Pogues-y hook, the twangy, just-sour-enough “Forever”, and “Against the Moon”, the most different song Iceage has ever done, and probably the most beautiful. Mournful horns, strings and piano accompany a mournful Rønnenfelt: “Whatever I do/ I don’t repent/ I keep pissing against the moon”. But it´s not all about the singer; Dan Kjær Nielsen´s drumming has become noticeably more versatile, and his presence adds emotional heft to the melodies.
The title track sees the quartet in world-weary form; almost as if to sigh, shrug and laugh at what dreadful upstarts they were on their first two albums. There´s nothing wrong with being young, lads. But for all the posturing about “those brash young studs”, Iceage step out of their own shadow with another brilliantly constructed chorus. Ah, choruses! On a punk record! How many more “days of disorder”, for Iceage? Not many, probably, if this stately affair is anything to go by. No doubt this will be called a “growing up record”, for at a base level that´s what it is, and Iceage don´t try to disguise that.
The formative stages of this album songs was not completely unforeseeable. The best songs of You´re Nothing, (“Morals” or “Ecstasy”) amongst the mirth and dirge, previewed glimpses of just how good Iceage could be on the lighter side. Now, it´d be hard to describe Iceage as a punk band; in truth, the formulaic connotations behind the word just don´t fit what this band is producing. Punk as a genre has been used for many things – but mostly for expressing despair and discontent. But where everything is black and muddy, the smallest gleam of light seems that much brighter, and Plowing Into the Field of Love is 2014´s attestation to that.