Home Music LICE: WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear

LICE: WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear

Thank god LICE has barrels of fun on WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear. On paper, the concept reeks of pretention, but LICE juggles the record’s big-brained concept with a meld of post-punk, experimental, jazz and theatre while implementing a self-made instrument. What WASTELAND misses is punchiness. LICE needs a tighter fist so that their blows connect with the jawbone.

WASTELAND is a meta-satirical concept album that doubles as a piece of short fiction. In brief (as the actual description is verbose), WASTELAND transfigures the limiting atmosphere of the UK punk scene LICE flourished under into an absurdist piece about time-traveling doctors, shape-shifting morals and the power that lyrics hold to foster or disseminate thought. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, LICE invented their own instrument for the album, a noise-intoner inspired by the works of 20th-century Italian revolutionaries. If it all sounds a bit brainy, it is. Thankfully, LICE never dip into haughtiness as they enjoy clanging their instruments as much as they enjoy a good penis joke. They draw from their UK post-punk ilk like early IDLES and forward-thinkers black midi. On a technical level LICE impresses but there’s a missing bite.

The problem LICE has to solve is how to mesh their giggling satire and penis jokes and resurrections with the will to plant their boots and get ugly. The flat production blunts what should be the exhilarating “Arbiter,” leaving a swamp that mutes the squelching guitar and discordant hammering. When they disrespect the fretboard amidst a discordant bass tone on “Deluge,” the echoed vocals reveal they are playing with their tail between their legs. “Deluge” indicates how violent LICE should be in their best moments. They drink from the same chalice of morphing time signatures and grooves as black midi, but unlike those boys they rarely combust to their utmost potential. There’s a muscular rhythm packaged into “Deluge,” but a stiff production and dampened vocals take a bit of piss out of their mug of piss and vinegar.

WASTELAND operates best when it doesn’t bludgeon. “Folla” is the audio representation of scrawling catchphrases over one another in a notebook. (In the accompanying lyric book are an indistinguishable cobweb of conflicting slogans.) The campy organ simultaneously stirs the absurdity of the wasteland while slipping arsenic into the brew of vocals. The medley of lead and guest vocals both male and female on “Clear” are unexpectedly seductive. LICE brandishes their dance influences on the new wave-adjacent “Persuader,” and the waltz on the back half of “Espontáneo” flaunts and flourishes.

WASTELAND is altogether worthwhile—even the lyric book is a jaunty read. It’s impressive for a debut high-concept album to run so lean yet so complete, but LICE needs to sharpen their knives to ensure their brand of satire amounts to more than dudes having a laugh. They can waltz and croon and serenade and they can pound most of the time when they need to; maybe they just have to smash a few more amps in the process.

Summary
It’s impressive for a debut high-concept album to run so lean yet so complete, but LICE needs to sharpen their knives to ensure their brand of satire amounts to more than dudes having a laugh.
70 %
Vinegar Not Included

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