Music Reviews
You're Nothing

Iceage You're Nothing

(Matador) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

I get the feeling that the members of Iceage don’t smile very often. Looking through press photos and amateur pictures of the youthful Copenhagen foursome reveal nothing even resembling a half smirk, and live footage of the band frequently shows a pale, emotionless Elias Rønnenfelt limply tossing himself about stage like he hasn’t slept in days. Maybe it’s just those cold Danish winters, or maybe it’s the pains that come with entering your twenties (something that hits a little too close to home), but listening to the group’s latest release, the stellar punk opus You’re Nothing, you begin to think that maybe these guys just need a hug.

Admittedly, this would be like administering a hug to a helicopter blade, as the bands vicious, nihilistic brand of punk is as barbed and serrated as a mohawk made of Swiss Army knives. Arriving fully formed and thirsting for blood with 2011’s New Brigade, Iceage felt like an unexpected gift to the world of punk music, with their debut’s breathless immediacy, infectious riffs, and frighteningly abrasive delivery bringing Copenhagen’s timid yet explosive hardcore scene to the forefront of the indie music world, with Iceage largely crowned as the scenes unenthused champions. “Unenthused” – I say – because while most bands would have potentially sweetened upon garnering worldwide attention and signing to Matador for their sophomore release, the existential breakdowns present on You’re Nothing suggests the group has slipped into an even deeper pit of misery and frustration.

Though it isn’t as immediate or as catchy as its predecessor, Iceage’s latest succeeds most noticeably in its persistent and ongoing feeling of doom and dread. Not to say that New Brigade was forgiving in any sense of the world, but, despite moving up to a bigger label, it seems like the group’s mission in creating You’re Nothing was to take the rawest and most punishing aspects of their debut and amplify them to suffocating new levels of aggression. The album opens with Ecstasy, which, ironically, is the bleakest song the group has ever written. Hazy, blackened guitars drown the song in overwhelming dread, as Rønnenfelt’s droll vocals, which sound clearer and more emotional than ever before, wallow in despair as he searches for those fleeting moments of beauty between the agonizing pressures of life. The increased clarity in the recording of Rønnenfelt’s vocals do help bring his dark, existential lyrics to light, but it’s the simple statements, like Rønnenfelt’s hysterical confession of Can’t take this pressure,  that still carry the most crushing emotional weight.

This isn’t to say that the album is so fraught with bitterness and ugliness that the music itself is unlistenable. Much like their debut, each mangled track on You’re Nothing is perfectly executed and loaded with ferocious hooks, yet delivered with such looseness and aggression that they feel more like the result of a temper tantrum than a songwriting session.  One of the things that have made Iceage stand out so well amongst a slew of like-minded bands is the way that they treat chaos and melody as one in the same, and there simply isn’t a moment on the album that lacks this distinct tunefulness.

Of course, much of this resides in the hooks, and while they’re not always as immediately heart stopping as they were on New Brigade, you’d be hard pressed to find a track on You’re Nothing to not have at least one memorable hook (minus Interlude, maybe).  Some tracks hooks, like Wounded Hearts and the blistering title track, collide with the listener like a car windshield, while others, like the moody Burning Hand or the strangled maelstrom It Might Hit First, take closer listens to recognize those clear identifiers through the harrowing filth.

But brooding in a deeper level of sonic misery and great hooks doesn’t necessarily make You’re Nothing the excellent punk album it manages to be, as it’s the growth the band displays throughout the album that really makes it worthwhile. New Brigade was such a fully-formed statement from such a fresh-faced band that they easily could have released a carbon copy of their debut and people would still be impressed. However, with the exception of maybe a few tracks, it’s hard to imagine many of You’re Nothing’s tracks appearing on their debut in the same form, despite the fact that the composition of the band and their established sound is virtually unchanged. The manic pop of Coalition, with its anthemic dueling riffs, verges on power-pop while still delivering teeth-gnashing hardcore, and In Haze, with its massive, gymnastic riffs, is Iceage blown to stadium sized proportions, or at least a really packed basement.

Most interesting, however, is Morals, which might be the closest the band’s music comes to true tenderness. Marching along to rhythmic snares and sparse, soured piano strikes, the song displays a damaged, heartfelt quality as Rønnenfelt pleads, To be someone like you / Unable to carry life’s weight, before launching into a towering chorus where Rønnenfelt barks the demand, Where’s your morals? Some fans of the group may not appreciate the slowed down approach, but Morals is the sign of a band pushing their boundaries without compromising a single ounce of pressure.

About a minute and thirty seconds into the cloudy distortion of Ecstasy, Rønnenfelt barks out the incredibly telling line, But bliss is momentary anyhow / Yet worth living for – take me now. For many – and I’d imagine this includes the members of Iceage as well – punk is that momentary bliss, where two minutes of amateur musical adrenaline can numb you from life’s issues while also highlighting just what’s so frustrating about it all. Despite the group’s apathetic demeanor, it makes you wonder if each track on You’re Nothing’s sublime dirge is a result of those fleeting moments of carnal ecstasy, as it’s hard not to get lost in the beaten and bruised squalor Iceage expels on their grittiest – and best – album yet.