ICEAGE – You’re Nothing
Having managed to calmly stride through, rather than being thrown off of, a media circus that oscillated between alternating assignations of them as punk-rock saviours or Nazi hell-spawn in the wake of their acclaimed debut New Brigade, Iceage return with a record presented seemingly with no point to prove.
Where the record lacks some of the more instrumentally distinctive moments of previous tracks like ‘Collapse’, what they trade them in for is a cogency and cohesion which reflects an increased confidence in their performance. This in particular is what demarcates Iceage for acclaim in a genre that some might argue peaked in significance and inventiveness some time ago [perhaps Fugazi took it with them went they went AWOL?], and though innovation might not be foremost on the agenda, they do everything that should be their bread and butter naturally, charismatically and exceedingly well. Songs like the killer title-track, ‘Wounded Hearts’ (packed with gang vocals that threaten to absolutely kill live), and ‘Morals’ (all the more intense for the introduction of piano and its tempo reduction), come in spades, fundamentally quality down to their very bones.
Amidst the musical tumult and raucousness that dominates and ensures that they’re less creeping glacier than pounding snowstorm – despite a worthy experiment into the more wholly atmospheric with the instrumental ‘Interlude’ which with perhaps some track-list repositioning and development into a full-fledged track instead of a fading out might well have been a highlight – where Iceage really shine for me is the lyrics of frontman Elias Rønnenfelt.
The vocals increased clarity in the mix is much appreciated for this particular reason, as, though laconic, in their sparseness they’re honest, nuanced and developed enough to circumvent the accusation of a cynical mind that the mantric choruses: “Excess”, “Pressure”, “Do you hear me?”, “Where’s your morals? – all perfectly designed for scrawling in exercise book margins – actually give cathartic release both on the page and in their forthright, compelling delivery.
The overriding sensation to be left with is that there’s a heightened density to Iceage this time round, a satisfying added weight to the songs in both the production and composition, which is reinforced by the brevity at both the level of individual tracks and as a recorded totality, blow after blow being levelled to the extent that it threatens exhaustion on end-to-end, and repeat listening (…but that’s kind of point).
This is a work of refined power, both recapturing and emboldening the essence of what justifiably brought Iceage to widespread consciousness first time around. 7.4/10
FOALS – Holy Fire
Forging ahead after the successful artistic shift that came under the banner of their Utah cult mantra-esque Total Life Forever, Oxford five-piece Foals have returned.
The most immediately identifiable development, and perhaps the most interesting for the options it creates, is that they’ve found out how to get to 11 on their amplifiers – and they know how to use it. First single ‘Inhaler’ possesses an outright monster of a riff, muscular and rip-roaring, which despite now lacking the element of surprise has exchanged the sensation of startlement for an anticipatory excitement that comes with the release it affords amidst the song’s claustrophobic breathless tone, and ‘Providence’ similarly pound and rages amidst the distortion as it reaches its moments of crescendo.
Alongside the extra toys in the box though, the group still make increasingly well-defined use of their now staple sonic stomping grounds: the precise fret-board mathematics with which they first caught our ears, the uber-infectious and festival-ready ‘My Number’; the atmospheric spaciousness previously wielded to such transcendent effect on ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Olympic Airways’ which particularly dominates towards the album’s closure – reaching its most sublime on album highlight ‘Milk & Black Spiders’.
Crucially, with this increasing repertoire and refinement comes a sparer use of any individual aesthetic, facets of all the elements of their sound, old and new, instead rising and falling to prominence throughout an album that operates like a Galileo thermometer, fluctuations in mood and temperature instigating appropriate shifts in song-writing and production.
It’s this developing freedom of their abilities in and artful awareness of their craft that makes ‘Holy Fire’ such a resounding accomplishment, certainly on the level of the instrumental; but there are still some nagging complaints which prevent the record asserting itself as runaway success – notably lyrically. For every gem of absolute heart: “Cause I know you’re still with me, / You; my compass and my sea”, Yannis offers clunkers like “sticks and stones don’t break my bones” and “I’m the last cowboy in town”, occasionally mistaking his heightened capacity for clarity with overt simplicity, which whilst not bringing down the tracks as a whole, they do momentarily cause a hiccup in the overriding sense of ‘Holy Fire’ as the ultimate realisation of the band’s ripe promise.
Yet, Holy Fire’s aptitude for brilliance comes to such an extent, that the patient time that needs to be afforded to the areas that will benefit from it most is easily earned. There’s much to admire, moments to love, and plenty to suggest 2013 could very much be Foals’ year. 7.6/10
AUTRE NE VEUT – Anxiety
The willingness for ostensibly ‘indie’ musicians to experiment with the sonic palettes of pop and R&B (with a concordant reverse), has been a movement in the ascendancy with each passing year of the new Millennium: Dev Hynes and the Quin sisters being perhaps the two most prominent figures at the threshold in the past year.
Arthur Ashin a.k.a. Autre Ne Veut occupies similar avant-pop territory on his second LPAnxiety,frequently alighting upon the very breaking wake of a number of the most popular blogosphere sounds of the 2010s: How To Dress Well’s lo-fi soul, Frank Ocean’s post-modern resurrection of the ‘Minneapolis sound’, Grimes’ manic ADHD instrumentation, even elements of cloud-rap production.
It’s a record equally steeped in melodic pop-sensibility and itchy experimental texturisation, with the real stand-out feature being Ashin’s silky, supple falsetto, particularly when employed at its most stacked and harmonic with female accompaniment.
A number of the songs are quite brilliant: ‘Promises’ a two-minute snippet of everything that Ashin does so well without wholly committing perhaps the best litmus test for new listeners to try on these sounds for size; the pitch-shits and children’s choir-esque backing vocals brilliantly build the epic tone of ‘Ego Free Sex Free’ until it completely soars by its final third; ‘Play by Play’ is perhaps one of the songs of the year, tumbling into life and then building up to a magnitudinous and magnificence that is rewarding to both immediate and invested listening.
But where the first half of the record is immensely listenable, the instrumentation composed immaculately to build a rising tide of tension or emotion to gets heart-beating or feet-moving – whichever is required – the latter half is often paced somewhat awkwardly, issues occasioned by the a few musical missteps that unsettle tracks so frequently and intelligently flow-based. Momentum is lost with the comparatively minimalist, down-tempo ‘A Lie’ at the halfway point, and from here on out where previous songs had felt so essential, closers ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and ‘World War’, for all the space allowed to them fail to lead into anywhere particularly fresh or captivating to the ear, lack the emotional weight of contemporaries records like Total Loss, with the ultimate result that that though they are still sophisticated and well-performed, they simply aren’t as memorable or interesting as the singles.
In short, there’s undoubtedly a fairly spectacular EP bequeathed to us here, heralded by a song which I’ll treasure for the rest of the year, amidst a record that promises so much. There’s proficiency by the spade-load here, and it’s only let down by an increasing lack of that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ as the record progresses which hinders some of the tracks’ ability to fully explode into life; which leads me to the reflection that perhaps it is my all-consuming greed as a listener, rather than any overt failing, that led to the sensation of disappointed hope for more moments of the same immense satisfaction. 6.4/10