Talkhouse Contributing Writer Zachary Lipez is the former singer for Freshkills and the current singer of Publicist UK. He writes the “Adult Problems” column for Noisey/VICE. He also contributes to Hazlitt, MySpace, and Vol.1 Brooklyn. His most recent book, with Nick Zinner and Stacey Wakefield, is Please Take Me Off the Guest List (Akashic Books, 2010). He tends bar at 124 Rabbit Club. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Let’s get this out of the way first. I love Iceage. I love Iceage like I love the Rolling Stones and Sleater-Kinney. I love Iceage like I love wearing a sharp band pin on a tattered suit, like I love making fun of other people who love Iceage. I love Iceage like I want to take Iceage into the bathroom of Home Sweet Home on goth night and feed the band candy clove cigarettes and pat-pat Iceage until Iceage burps its sweet sickness all over my shoulder. I love Iceage like fat kids ostensibly and stereotypically love cake, but truly, truly instead love life.
I even loved Iceage’s “The Clean Does Oi!” second album, last year’s You’re Nothing. And that shit was a mess.
Iceage have been around for minute now, gone from underground whisper to hype band to backlash against hype band to the critical grand dames at 23 they are now. My agreement with their and White Lung’s adulation in Pitchfork has led to a crisis in personal branding from which I may never recover.
When I first heard Iceage, it was a Maximumrocknroll review and the recommendation of a local skinhead who’d I met years before when he punched me in the face, so I knew I could trust him. I bought the 2011 debut album New Brigade (the one released by Dais, thank you, not the posuer What’s Yr Rupture? edition) and saw their first two US shows, and shook and screamed like they were the Beatles, surrounded by a hundred blog readers who were bummed that Iceage were not nearly competent enough to be the Joy Division revival they were promised to be. To compare a band to Joy Division is to surrender all critical faculties and I didn’t mind incompetence; I loved the arrogance and complete chaos of these callow hardcore aesthetes trying to figure out which direction to point their instruments.
And let’s get another thing straight right now; up until the newest album Plowing Into the Field of Love, Iceage was a hardcore band. Listen to the drums on New Brigade and You’re Nothing. Regardless of whatever else is going on the albums, drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen is playing hardcore. But beyond all that, Iceage had and has songs. In a musical universe where bands pass off sketches as complete works, Iceage writes, in whatever genre they’re working in (be it of the three-punk, cowpunk, gothpunk variety) fully breathing young savages of songs.
One of the best things that happened to a lot of punk in the 1980s was that it stopped being punk. It kept the adherence to looking amazing, but it discovered hair product besides glue and started getting down to Hank Williams and Howlin’ Wolf. All of a sudden, LA was overrun with Cramps (who, uh, were from New York but I’ll be damned if I let the facts get in the way of a potentially entertaining thesis) and Gun Club and Flesh Eaters and it was GOOD. This is admittedly a highly selective reading of history (as I, like everyone else, only read Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk and not Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L. A. Punk, I have no idea if that’s how it went down. Seems plausible) and it only happened to a few, but it seems like history is happily repeating itself. The new Iceage worships at the alter of Las Vegas Story Gun Club while contemporizes, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, have put out the best Flesh Eaters album possibly ever. Up the new Cowboy-shirt Punx. Long may Kid Congo look down on all of them and smile.
Brian “Kid Congo” Tristan, king of all he surveys, former member of the Cramps, the Gun Club and the Bad Seeds and the greatest living guitarist if your inclinations run towards the hep and depraved (and if you’re going to get behind the new Iceage, they better) looms large over this album. More so than Nick Cave and whatever art school cinematographers the Iceage boys have been namedropping to credulous interviewers. Kid Congo gave soulful skronk and meaning to a John Waters-in-leather worldview. Junkie poetry will only get you so far, son, so you better have a sense of humor and a mustache. And luckily this is the album where our young models truly embrace cocaine and dissolution. Don’t let the emo nerds fool you; Plowing Into the Field of Love is fucking hilarious.
Lines like “five-inch white high heels/I do believe in heaven and I do believe it’s real,” from (Jason and the) scorcher “The Lord’s Favorite,” conjure up less the strippers at national socialist disco afterparty and more singer Elias Rønnenfelt listening to Nick Cave’s The First Born Is Dead (1985) and jacking off to Emma Frost fan-art. Which is, like the original LA punk gone country Philip Marlowe says, OK with me. The spaghetti western horns that occur throughout the album conjure up appropriate amounts dread and sex fear of girl, but they also make one think of the barely legal wastrels of Iceage digging their spurs into a horse sized pile of yay. If the band were doing downtown, the songs wouldn’t kick at all. And the songs do kick and shake and shudder like, well, someone not doing the requisite amount of heroin. (For the record: I have no idea what drugs the members of Iceage take part in, if any, and god knows a tremendous amount of great music has been made on heroin. I’m just more a Tusk guy.)
Now. Wait. Calm down. Saying the album is “hilarious” and my ensuing japes at its expense don’t mean I’m laughing at it (or Iceage). I’m not. I truly truly truly trooooooly love this record. I just think it’s absurd and wonderful and it makes me laugh. If you’ve never laughed while enjoying serious art I can’t help you. Perhaps you should have stuck with hardcore. Wearing a suit and lurching in and out of vaginas while approximating existential boozehound odes to the moon is funny. And deadly serious. What? This isn’t science, this is rock & roll music. Gravity is welcome, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.
Rønnenfelt’s voice has always been the part of Iceage that is most swoon inducing, and that’s saying something; when I say that every Iceage album makes me feel like I did at 15 hearing Nirvana — yes Nirvana — made me swoon, I’m not exaggerating. And on Plowing Into The Fields of Love his natural charisma is on full display. As his endearing penchant for aristocratic dopiness. He coughs up plenty of “Scum”-era Cave phlegm while lyrically falling down the staircase of the empty, cobwebbed, lit by moonlit (obvs), mansion that he brings his gorgeous, gorgeous lovelies to. At times the sensuality becomes a bit too much, though you’re never sorry you came. Being banged out by Iceage means never having to say you’re sorry for rolling your eyes.
There are a lot of bands out there, too many and out of the too many, the oppressive weight of all these boys and girls and their feelings, Iceage is by far my favorite. I have no problems saying that, critical standards of objectivity be damned, Iceage is my favorite band in the world. When I relentlessly make fun of them, their hair, their hats, their unfortunate youthful tendencies towards trains that ran on time, I do it the same way a men’s rights advocate negs a fine, fine woman. I want you to stay, Iceage. I’m weak and flawed and your light shines so brightly, Iceage, like the snap buttons on John Doe’s shirt. Every day is the Birthday Party, Iceage, I have a cowboy hat too, please invite me.