Seek Shelter all but confirms Iceage’s existence as a commercial outfit, but also proves their continued ability to surprise and thrill.
Suspicions surrounding Iceage’s “authenticity” have gone hand-in-hand with the band’s rise to (indie rock) fame, even all the way back to the Danish punk band’s 2011 debut New Brigade, an album of snarling, chic hardcore that U.S. music writers scrambled to anoint, placing it high up in a number of then prominent music blogs’ year-end lists. The music on New Brigade and its similarly styled/received follow up You’re Nothing is, to be fair, cool and good, but there’s also little doubt that Iceage (and their team) are an image conscious outfit, having since redefined and reoriented the band’s persona and genre leanings a couple times over, moving toward more traditional pop melody and swaggering balladry; great material for music critics, albeit the sort that fuels dopey, wide-eyed headlines (“grim-faced nihilists to wearied soothsayers”) and performative hand-wringing over the band’s early interest in fascist imagery that’s never really gotten resolved.
All of these favorite narrative touchpoints have been trotted back out in time for Iceage’s latest album, Seek Shelter, a pre-pandemic recording that saw release this past May via Mexican Summer. This fifth LP finds the band more or less free of any of the hardcore trappings that once characterized their sound (primary vocalist and songwriter Elias Rønnenfelt has stated that this was always the band’s intent, their noisier, blunter work conceived to accommodate his then limited English vocabulary, though why their lyrics had to be in English is another question), expanding their more recently favored country western palette out into a gonzo rock n’ roll fusion of Americana and Brit Pop. What’s left of the Iceage from before — Rønnenfelt’s accented, sneering delivery, occasionally antagonistic, post-punk song compositions — mostly serves to ground Seek Shelter’s soaring, arena-minded anthems, which otherwise look toward sunnier, more expansive genres for inspiration. This latest pivot has the benefit of being assisted by Spaceman 3’s Peter Kember, who serves as producer here, the ‘90s space/psych icon’s expertise put to good use in keeping these longer (Seek Shelter’s nine tracks almost all sit in the 4-5 minute range), multi-section compositions from coming apart. And lord knows, there’s quite a bit to keep track of on these songs: opener “Shelter Song” introduces a backing choir into the band’s repertoire in support of a Noel Gallagher-type chorus, which is followed closely by “High and Hurt,” a meandering, grumbly take on cowpunk that suddenly careens into full on interpolation of “Let the Circle Be Unbroken.”
These are ideas that the band toyed with on 2018’s Beyondless and their 2014 creative high point Plowing Into the Field of Love (Nick Cave-ian ballad “Love Kills Slowly” most especially in line with that album’s vibe), but here they allow themselves a bigger canvas, Rønnenfelt’s songwriting now prioritizing a delayed catharsis to the more immediate, lascivious ones he previously favored. There’s also some amusing flirtation with less trendy iterations of the arena aesthetic with apparent Jefferson Starship homage “Gold City” (another band known for radical reinvention), and “Vendetta,” which plays out like a Muse song had that band possessed any menace to spare. In this way, Seek Shelter is a neat trick rendered legitimate by Iceage’s crafty musicianship and Kemper’s expert production, a series of smartly curated vibes, surprisingly light despite the bulk of its ambitions. Rønnenfelt and co. still have a great capacity to surprise and thrill, this music likely to translate nicely into the live settings they hoped to accommodate by this album’s delay, though it’s more clear than ever that Iceage is defined by showmanship above all else.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2021 | Part 3.