Thursday, June 16, 2011

ICEAGE - New Brigade - Album Review

For all the driving force and angst that is to be found on New Brigade, ICEAGE sure can't get enough of that reverb knob. The band's debut album (out June 21st) is an interesting study of guitar-streaked youth anger, but nonetheless it can't quite seem to come out of its shell. ICEAGE make a strong sonic statement, to be sure, delivering you nothing but spikey metallic tunes that are upfront and attention grabbing. Still, from the ambient opener "Intro", you are also in for a large helping of dark, cloudy echoes that seem to be trapped in too small a room.

It quickly becomes clear that ICEAGE are committed to including this atmospheric production as a core element of their sound. The guitars and drums are simultaneously piercing and washed out, while the vocals sound as if they're being screamed at you from behind a locked door. This match-up of aggressive, angular post-punk with a heavy dose of back-alley reverb sounds promising on paper, these songs don't have the breathing space for such a moody, wet sound. ICEAGE do not deviate from the challenging song structures and unresolved tension of fore bearers like Mission of Burma and Joy Division. But while those groups were able to create an adventurous set of musical textures, ICEAGE keeps things rough and gloomy, and much of it just ends up sounding like they're playing out in the rain.

Much of this may have to do with the youthfulness of the group, some of whom are still in their teens. These guys have the makings of a good idea - ambient angularity is a unique direction for them to pursue - but they haven't perfected their brew yet.

Still, for deep fans of dark punk, there is a good amount on tap here to satisfy. I would imagine that they put on a raucous live show, and would benefit from a less bottled-up environment. In fact, it helps to listen to New Brigade as if it were a start-to-finish set in the basement of a UK pub, down to the close crack of the drums (played quite liberally, I might add) and the icy-hot clang of guitars. ICEAGE Probably comes closest to achieving this on "Rotting Heights", in which the band seems to be navigating their numerous musical detours with proper speed and precision.

ICEAGE know that they've got a lot of new music to make in the years ahead, and they can probably look forward to a more well-developed set of songs in the future. They may still be looking for the proper window to smash so as to break out of some confining production choices. But they need little help when it comes to banging out energetic tunes, wrapped in broken glass. That's as arresting a package to deliver as any.

Justin Schmidt

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