“All those brash young studs/ They have no idea what it’s like up here,” Danish punk Elias Bender Rønnenfelt moans over a rolling midtempo drag on the title track to Iceage’s brilliant third album, Plowing Into the Field of Love. The line first scans as a refined upgrade of the band’s usual alienation—a dark basement swapped for an ivory tower. But it also has the same sardonic self-awareness that coats the instantly iconic video for Plowing’s first single, “The Lord’s Favorite”, which featured the really, really, really ridiculously good-looking Rønnenfelt and his youthful comrades smearing lipstick on themselves, taking champagne baths, and enjoying cocktails with (d)ice in their glasses. “Part of me wants to hurt you/ Tear in your hair/ But I don’t do that now,” the singer admits, staring into the camera and lighting a cigarette as the band takes on tricky cowpunk shapes underneath his voice; it is, at the least, a unique approach to acknowledging newfound maturity.
Indeed, Plowing Into the Field of Love finds Iceage growing up on their own terms. Up to this point, they’ve developed incrementally, taking a knife to the rough-around-the-edges teenage fury of the 2011 debut LP New Brigade and cutting fresh, sharp ribbons of flesh on last year’s refined sophomore effort You’re Nothing. Essentially a bolder, somewhat brighter update of what came before, You’re Nothing contained few hints of the baroque terrain that Iceage are traversing now. But the dense lockstep drone that closed out that record’s “Morals” suggested that Iceage could slow things down without losing their dead-eyed sense of passion.
On Plowing, Iceage make a radical shift away from their hack-and-slash past and towards what is, for them, unexplored territory—morose piano balladeering, sprightly country-rock figures, distinctly Irish-sounding drinking anthems. Their journey mirrors the transformation that the punks of the ’80s underwent when devising the perfect alchemy of hardcore’s youthful burn and Americana’s weary shuffle (see Mekons, X, Meat Puppets). So Iceage aren’t exploring new sounds on Plowing, culturally speaking, but nothing they’ve done in the past five years suggested that they were capable of such a transformation. Despite the new approach, Iceage still sound like themselves, so when Asger Valentin’s mournful trumpet cuts through the rolling stomp of “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled”, the most surprising thing about the instrument isn’t its mere presence, but how at-home it sounds amidst the band’s newly considered arrangements.
A sense of steadiness, a measured approach to abandon, marks Iceage’s transformation from a very good band to a Great Band on Plowing. While New Brigade contained bursts of unexpected melodic sweetness, the gruesome You’re Nothing often sounded like it was held together with little more than congealed blood and matted hair. On Plowing, the band swings to the opposite pole, sounding threateningly tight even when walking the edge of full collapse, similar to ’80s-era Sonic Youth’s balance of control and dissonance. Dark piano chords serve as an anchor for “How Many”‘s buzzsaw guitars, embracing a half-time tempo change at the song’s midsection that crashes through the burning scenery; “Cimmerian Shade” kicks off with a hollow pound courtesy of drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen, accented by guitars both brawny and thin-sounding that abrasively scrape against each other.
Album centerpiece “Stay” somewhat hilariously opens as a waltz in 3/4 time, speeding up uncontrollably at the command of Rønnenfelt’s most operative, visually arresting lyrical aside on Plowing (“Hands/ Become thundering hooves”) before building to a furious burn that stands as Iceage’s finest moment of feral aggression. Plowing’s strangest moment, then, comes in the form of its most straightforward tune: “Abundant Living”, the record’s only sub-three-minute song that one could reasonably listen to while skipping down a sidewalk. Jakob Tvilling Pless wields a jaunty mandolin figure over the band’s besotted sway, which takes on a Gaelic punk resemblance as Rønnenfelt promises in a miserable cadence, “I’ll bring it all down here with me/ Soaked in alcohol.”
Rønnenfelt’s lyrics are front and center throughout Plowing—partially a result of his improved English, as he told Pitchfork recently—and they paint the type of self-portrait you’d expect from a punkish youth in his twenties: fatalistic, ferociously inquisitive, drunk on the promise of tomorrow and even drunker on whatever’s flowing from the tap at this very moment. Images of absent fathers, prison cells, and drowning are evoked, and the album’s parting line—”I am plowing into the field of love/ They will place me in a hearse”—reads as poetically grim as the limited perspective of youth allows. “I have a sense of utopia/ Of what I truly ought to do,” Rønnenfelt proclaims in the middle of “How Many”, and that sense of gritted-teeth naïveté comes to define Plowing Into the Field of Love as a whole. This is the sound of Iceage finding a balance between getting older and seeking immortality by way of leaping into an abandoned-lot fire head-first. It’s beautiful and ugly at the same time and, for now, Iceage have found their own unstable sense of peace.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yOLmQ4