Ian O’Neil is a musician and artist who plays with Deer Tick, Happiness, and by himself. He lives in Providence, RI. (Photo Credit: Shoji Van Kuzumi)
Somewhere near the dissolving point of youth, we begin to search for past experiences that remind us of a sense of comfort and truth. Whether or not those things were ever there to begin with, we seem to find them anyway. People insert themselves into an era they never inhabited. They believe that they relate to singer-songwriters with their pastoral sounds, and even buy records that they subconsciously deem more suitable for domesticity. Carole King’s Tapestry is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I know that other people, besides myself, must perform these functions because I do, and I’m simply not that unique. After nine years with my wife, we finally tried to have a baby and conceived fairly quickly. This pervasiveness of assuming an appropriate cultural identity has crept in with each new achieved, personal joy.
Around age 20, my obsession with music brought me to love the Brooklyn noise-rock band Ex Models while simultaneously falling in love with John Prine’s entire discography. My love for music has always been at war with itself, and the identity crises that follow perpetuate a fire that keeps me inspired to keep creating it. Whenever I find myself falling into the more expected side of my musical identity, some new record ruptures those clogged arteries and revitalizes my sense of what’s possible with music.
These moments are so inspiring that I was recently pushed to reach out to Talkhouse and relay my most recent experience. My entire week has been consumed by Iceage’s new album, Beyondless, in a near-unhealthy way.
The elation in Jenn Pelly’s review of Beyondless for Pitchfork was moving and so, untrue to form, I was convinced by a piece of music journalism to check an album out. For a member of Deer Tick to thank Pitchfork may surprise our fans, but, seriously, thank you, Jenn Pelly.
Beyondless gives me hope, happiness, and most importantly, anxiety. The fire and discomfort that comes with all of these warring feelings is, for me, vital to staying creative. It’s important to feel surprised by the words you write down, or even the mark you make on canvas. Otherwise, the creative experience is not only outwardly pointless, but internally dull. One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Thieves Like Us,” pairs a blues-guitar riff with lyricist Elias Ronnenfelt singing “Help, I think I blindfolded the chauffeur.” In his intoxicated, menacing phrasing, he seems to be discussing self-destructive behavior with some pleading sense of danger. The best part is that it really doesn’t sound like he wants help. Ronnenfelt is creating a tense, uneasy environment that lights up your brain. The musical habitat created by his bandmates gives him the space to sound surprised, himself. This a level of performance that rides on self assurance, while dodging a trainwreck with pleasure, is pure Rock and Roll.
Iceage always seemed like a band in line with a scene that I’ve long felt distanced from. They felt like a band that was a curiosity, but rarely actually listened to by a wider audience. This new record, made long after their earliest “buzz” period, sounds purer in arrangement and lyrical accomplishment than anything I’ve come across in some time, at any level of the music industry.
As I’ve seen with several peers, a sense of freedom comes to the surface after you’ve aged out of coasting on reviews and festival offers. I’m not sure if Iceage ever felt hindered by any early success, but Beyondless doesn’t suggest any adherence to pursuing modern trends. Sonically, I hear Alice in Chains pleasurably offending Lou Reed and Shane McGowan. The reverence for lyrically upholding and succumbing to beauty reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s lifelong mission. With the clever phrasing in the pre-chorus’ of “Catch It,” Ronnenfelt implores:
I said you want it,
You want it,
You want it again.
Pay close attention to the second “You want it.” It’s enunciated with such clarity and prudently used as a tool for folding you into their world, revealing how they’ve taken pains to make an album with care and nuance. As a musician and singer, this tiny moment really says it all to me. Everything is deliberate; nothing is left to luck.
The point of this article is to pay gratitude to an album and a band that has helped me subvert and respect my lot in life. If I’m going to provide anything creatively valuable for my son, it’ll be to enable him to never truly understand his identity, and to know that danger and anxiety are gifts.