New Brigade

Rating: 3.6/5.0

Label: What’s Your Rupture?/DAIS

Goddamn, almighty, I can’t properly express to you what a pleasure it is to sit in my Music Criticdom ivory tower and actually pontificate on a band like Iceage. See, for what seems like the last year and a half, the kind of records Spectrum Culture has reviewed, where white people with guitars are concerned, have fallen mind-numbingly into two camps; there’s the girls and the guys, actually. The dudes dress like turn-of-the-century barbers and attempt to sing earnestly about agrarian lives they were too privileged to ever get close enough to even smell and the girls, well, they wear leather jackets, red, red lipstick and bought Boss reverb pedals before they even bought guitars. Generalizations work generally, of course, so what I’m saying is, generally, you could play any song on New Brigade, whereupon it will serve as defibrillator to your sad “indie” listening experience as of late.

Not even in their twenties yet, Iceage hail from what is, if their interviews are any indication, a hotbed of punk rock, known to us as Copenhagen, Denmark. Seeing its North American release this month, the debut New Brigade is a potent pipebomb of a record. Even if it is only 12 tracks clocking in at around 22 minutes, it’s all Iceage needs. There’s a perfunctory “Intro,” creepy marching sounds made ostensibly via fucking with amps, before “White Rune” tears apart whatever expectations you’d originally held. The first of many stellar drum performances on the record (so new are these guys that I couldn’t find the guy’s name on the web), “White Rune” casts Iceage as a sort of organic take on what’s THIS for…!-era Killing Joke. The real meat of New Brigade’s songs are in the drumming, while guitars – provided partially by frontman Elias Bender Ronnenfelt – act either as rhythmic devices themselves or provide shards of color. It’s worth mentioning, I suppose, that Ronnenfelt, sounding steely and reverberated, comes off like a slightly snottier Jaz Coleman at times.

The title track shows these Danes have no trouble with dynamics, switching in and out from wall-of-sound to tense power chord passages and the following “Remember” has them getting about as close as you’d imagine they’d get to a pop song; they’ve got that Pains of Being Pure at Heart-sorta-wistful ’80s chord progression thing happening here, though mit balls! The delicately titled “Rotting Heights” manages to touch on both the Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters and early Bauhaus. The longest track here, the just-over three minute “Never Return,” almost takes Los Angeles’ Abe Vigoda’s weirdly tropical guitar approach and outfits it in metal studs and broken glass. “You’re Blessed” ends the record on an aggressive, though easily accessible note, at least until the middle break where the bass seems to be exploding and the drum kit managed by machines.

Let us make no mistake; there have been bands making aggressive guitar music the whole while your little sister has been tweeting about the Head and the Heart. Though Iceage are getting their due attention, probably in no small part to their youth (a punk rock xx!) and the narrative of their left-of-center nationality, New Brigade is a record deserving of praise and – holy crap – 22 minutes of your time. Best case scenario – the record signals a new talent whose attack will be refined, whose songs will carefully toe the line between catchy and riotous. Worst case – the blogosphere treats Iceage as a flavor – a sort of loud guitars as gimmick – and tosses them on the pile like last night’s Pabst. Don’t be that guy.

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