, September 19th, 2011 13:44
So maybe Garry Mulholland got it on the nose when he once said of the underground vanguard that “whatever their protestations... the gang everyone wants to be in will always be the pop gang”. Integrity is an illusion, rebellion is self-delusion and every punk just wants to be loved. Or is it always so? In 2011 the D.Boon award for This-band-could-be-your-life new act and team mascot for the 'punk will never die' contingent goes to the Copenhagen teens known collectively as Iceage. Not only by virtue of the fact that their music is so damn vital and fresh and penetrating, but proof once more that in order for that to really matter, the statement is most effective if hatched squarely on the shitty limits. Because what else does this shit modern life necessitate by way of the truth? Not more pop music, that's for sure. Not this time, Gaz.
Not that they have contrived to be heroes. Iceage are frigid and spooked and removed, not sermonising. They most patently aren't the Clash. Neither do they harbour hopes of 'importance' and widescreen reach for their music, unlike alleged punk saviours Fucked Up or indeed fellow Scandinavians Refused. By way of 'a message', lyrically it is difficult to glean much from this debut. The music, however, tells you all you need to know.
For example, we know that they feel dehumanised by their surroundings, and by the pain of routine, which they express in the form of repetitiousness throughout songs which sound somehow industrially reconstituted, rendering the music at once elemental and unnatural. We know that for teenage boys they are all wired up with a very adult and very numbing ennui, but too far gone to do anything but close their eyes and swing their fists, like the Germs damned for all eternity to Fugazi's 'Waiting Room'.
We know that although they affect a lobotomised schtick, there's a good chance they're fiercely intellectual young men. We know that for all their cold modernity, every bit of Bill Haley's red-hot coming-of-age thrust and desperate desire for something or anything to happen clangs rawly at the heart of New Brigade. We know that with all the piercing might they can muster with their brittle frames their songs tumble and stumble and accelerate and swagger, because not even Iceage can disguise their residual childhood energy.
We know that at other times the songs are slippy, evasive, ambiguous and ambivalent - much like those of the ungraspable Pere Ubu - because being Scandinavians they are evolved enough to know that, well, that's truer to the nature of life. We know that it's for this same reason that the music is shot through with an air of finality, staring as it does through a crack in teendom's space-time matrix no one noticed before (where it is frontman Rønnenfelt travels to during 'White Rune's falling mid-section is for the aliens to explain). Lastly, we know that under New Brigade's choking thicket lies a world of homemade vodka, municipal architecture, state religion, hot breath, Baltic ghost stories, cold weather and a band with no inclination to write songs about love or drugs or sex or anything else other than the weird geometric shapes that work their way free of a dense hive mind. We also know we are no closer to the truth. They are an inscrutable prospect, the proverbial 'white rune'; a mysterious glyph on the sandstone of 2011.
As a general rule on New Brigade, the faster, shorter and more atonal the tracks, the more intriguing the Danes become. Just 1:21 long, 'Count Me In' intercuts gonging down-strokes and fits of stroboscopic speed so sharply that the effect is anxiety-inducing. “This is how it would feel to drown in light,” Rønnenfelt screams, as enraptured by the idea as he is horrified. The impatient way of the song coupled with the frontman's morbid curiosity conveys a suicidal 'Well, what are we waiting for?' lunacy. Further on is 'Eyes' which, kicking off with “Stop watching me / Stop watching me”, takes all of two minutes to reinvent horror punk, seemingly as something Michael Haneke would make with a power tool and a malfunctioning defibrillator. Full of nothing and aching at its temples, 'Rotting Heights' hammers a frozen pipe over your head and then stops, leaving behind only an lead-acid aftertaste and lots of adrenaline. As does 'Collapse' which applies trepanning guitar and gang vocals to an anabolic tempo and tinfoil noise. Then there’s the album's apocalypse machine, 'White Rune' - all terrible bliss and dead men walking, set to hissing post-punk. It's always inspiring to encounter a band with the courage to submerge themselves in their own nihilistic despair, especially one so young.
New Brigade begins with 'Intro' - 51 seconds of premonitory build. Subaquatic shrieks and far off, muffled thunks can be heard in the murk, as if the monster that is punk is emerging from hibernation and on route to Tokyo by seabed, stomp by giant stomp. Only this time instead of a big dumb lizard the beast is efficient, highly evolved, and dangerously self-aware. The shape of punk to come? Not exactly. But compared to Iceage, 99 per cent of current revivalists are men in rubber suits.