Review: Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love

Honesty is difficult and brutal and it should be.


When Iceage put out their Gun Club-esque, country-punk Plowing Into the Field of Love single “The Lord’s Favorite” earlier this summer, reactions ranged from extremely psyched (ie. us) to deeply perplexed. I think most people who were deeply perplexed have probably not really listened to Iceage very closely. In maybe the best interview I’ve read in the past several months, J. Bennett of Self-Titled Magazine talks to Iceage’s Elias Ronnenfelt as well as Loke Rahbek (who played with Ronnenfelt in Var and is now in too many different noise projects for me to keep track of), Anton Rothstein of Lower, and Hannes Norrvide of Lust for Youth, who form part of the core group of a Copenhagen record label and store called Posh Isolation. Ronnenfelt talks about crowds in the US – “There were all these kids kicking each other in the face while we were playing […] They were just getting off on fast drumming and loud guitars. That was very frustrating because I came here to communicate something but they didn’t understand it.” Plenty of bands play music with fast drumming and loud guitars. You might want to start listening to Hoax or something if this is what you’re looking for (side note: you probably just want to listen to Hoax anyway).

Iceage’s music is really emotional in a way that not many people making aggressive music really get at; I tend to think of Ronnenfelt the same way I think about Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves or Naomi Punk’s Travis Coster, who lead their respective bands in making confrontational music that’s sometimes hard to listen to because it feels so personal, like reading someone else’s diary. The kind of punk and hardcore that’s always appealed to me is the kind that not only assaults you with noise but also with the uncomfortable feeling you get when you feel like you can see another person’s heart – it’s confrontational because we feel confronted when another person expresses their feelings so candidly, it’s confrontational because maybe it touches some exposed nerve in yourself. “You’re Blessed,” which closes Iceage’s 2011 debut LP New Brigade, is one of the most romantic and heartfelt songs I know – “If you could keep me together I won’t stay home” – and that it’s also one of the most driving and cathartic feels like a side-effect. Which is why I think people who are deeply perplexed about Iceage’s quasi-reinvention, which is not all that much of a reinvention anyway, have not really listened to this band very closely – Iceage have always made and will always continue to make whatever the fuck they want to. The thing Ronnenfelt and his bandmates are trying to communicate is honesty above all – sometimes it’s brutal to match the music, sometimes it’s not; it’s whatever it has to be to get real feeling across.

Plowing Into the Field of Love is a great record which only has one song on it that really sounds like the Gun Club, or like anything you would want to play over the trailer of The Hateful Eight – that would be “The Lord’s Favorite,” which you can also put on your personal Struttin’ playlist (everyone has one of these, right?) alongside like, Perfume Genius’s “Queen.” Sometimes you feel really good and sometimes you feel not so good – everything else kind of sounds like you could put it on the soundtrack for an adaptation of Blood Meridian; Iceage have always had an ear for an appropriate kind of scorched-earth desolation, a swarming, evil desert-punk sense of presence, of noisy, ear-ringing silence. There are more riffs on this record than on any other Iceage record, which I think is worth noting – Johan Wieth’s guitar always sounded sort of splintering, distorted and loud, serving up big, driving punk chords; he’s a great guitarist, which you know if you’ve seen him do his thing live on a song like “Collapse,” but that was never the point. Here he turns in some big ones – “Abundant Living,” “Forever,” and the penultimate track, the gem, “Simony,” which might be the song they’ve been working toward this whole time, with the dreamiest sunrise wasteland of an opening chord progression.

There’s the challenging, intense “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled,” in which Ronnenfelt performs as an “absent father” who levels the accusatory line “don’t think I didn’t hear you coming home last night;” there’s “Stay,” in which he sort of conceptually reprises “You’re Blessed” – “stay a while before my thoughts go running wild” – over a cacophony of drums. He’ll get right in your face (in person, literally), his throat-clearing, coughing, moaning, heavy breathing all recorded and mixed front and center (see: “Cimmerian Shade,” which lives up to its title, referring to the space of mist and darkness near the land of the dead in Greek mythology), as though he were singing the whole thing in your ear. His unfilteredness as a singer and as a performer is what makes the whole endeavor so jarring and sometimes so difficult, because all the human imperfections are in it, all the weird desire and the existential confusion and the guilt and the pain, the fear, the anxiety, and yes, the good moments, even the moments when you feel good enough to say “I think it’s evident that I’m God’s favorite one.” And even so you couldn’t have it any other way. It wouldn’t be Iceage if it were any other way.

Honesty is difficult and brutal and it should be. It’s not easy, it can’t be easy, life’s not easy. You’re always kind of pissing against the moon, as Ronnenfelt sums up vividly over piano and strings on “Against the Moon.” Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to try and be someone else, but Ronnenfelt tries it on “Forever” and it doesn’t click – “If I could dive into the other like it was an ocean I’d lose myself forever.” He’s got mariachi horns going over the climax of the track, because why not? It’s what’s real. Having the audacity to be honest in the face of pressure – fan pressure, record label pressure, life pressure, tectonic pressure, pressure, oh god, no – is innately confrontational. You couldn’t have it any other way. It wouldn’t be you if it were any other way. B+