LABEL: MEXICAN SUMMER
ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: DANISH ROCKERS CONTINUE TO EVOLVE IN THE FACE OF THE TRANSIENCE OF EVERYTHING.
Are there any rules in rock and roll? Maybe there are patterns, worn grooves in the pathway.
One rock and roll rule I always believed in is that it’s impossible to be a punk for more than 5 years. You either collapse like the Sex Pistols or evolve into something else like the Clash. Of course, that is simplistic to the point of wild wrongness. The helpful shorthand it provides for recognising the limitations of punk stylization compared to the endless permutations of punk spirit is swallowed by the way it reduces band development to stereotype or formula. Perhaps to hold that there are no rules in rock and roll is to believe that bands deserve to be accepted as their own thing and appreciated for their individual trajectories.
That is a thought worth persevering with listening to Seek Shelter, the new album from Danish rock band Iceage. In 10 years, Iceage have morphed from a hardcore punk sound into something more rounded and classic. Listening to this album compared to their previous releases, it’s easy to be reminded of great bands like The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes or The Beatles, who grew and matured into their sound. But that is not because Iceage are following some kind of playbook. Their strength is their ability to keep evolving and find new ways of sounding like themselves.
On Seek Shelter, the original four members of the band have accelerated their growth by recruiting a new guitarist and employing an outside producer for the first time. Peter Kember’s (better known as Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3) production work is a case study and apologetic for the role of the rock producer in a laptop world. Described by frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt as ‘a kindred spirit’, Kember has helped the band develop a last band in town swagger reminiscent of Primal Scream or The Hold Steady.
Lyrically, there are times on Seek Shelter where Rønnenfelt keeps true to the core of where Iceage began. There is still a desperate, furious energy to his writing. He still borrows religious imagery to interrogate belief in a broken world. Specifically though, Seek Shelter is populated with characters who are transient; whether that’s people who commit betrayals and then ‘swept on through’, the missing patron saint of music, or those who just are caught out when they need shelter.
With all the evolution and transience on this record, it is perhaps ironic that, musically, Seek Shelter feels complete. It is an album that is blessed by the fact that every new thing it tries comes off. The choir that carry ‘Shelter Song’ and album standout ‘Love Kills Slowly’, the work Rønnenfelt has put into developing his vocal performance, the horns, the strings, the programmed drums all sit naturally and do their work. If their third album Plowing Into The Field of Love sounded like a wild departure, Seek Shelter sounds like a triumphant arrival. It is as accomplished as any rock record you will hear in 2021.
There is no way of knowing where Iceage will go from this obvious career peak. Different band histories suggest a variety of trajectories they may follow, but there are no rules in rock and roll. Iceage deserve to be accepted as their own thing on their own individual trajectory, questing, evolving, trying, and on their new album, evidently succeeding.