Post-punk is indecipherable in my experience. It’s that bridge between punk and alternative (or grunge) where people were trying to break free from certain methodological constraints set by the 1970s to collapse upon something else. So revisiting it is like viewing a painter’s work-in-progress, heralding it as a masterpiece, while the artist continues to brush over what was once highly acclaimed until something ‘finished’ comes into fruition. It’s partially for that reason why the allure of Iceage is beyond me.
The Danish quartet comes from the unlikely place of Copenhagen. Or maybe not, given Danish film’s Dogme 95. If you keep von Trier and Vinterberg in mind, New Brigade makes sense but concurrently doesn’t. “White Rune” is a dogged, gasping song that sonically captures what Iceage’s shows are made out to be; bloody, brutal and relentless. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s verses on the track are apathetic in tone and clarity. The latter lack of articulation is a reason why New Brigade takes so long to get into unless you’re sardined into the Danish equivalent of a VFW. Punk has a rough quickness and catchy choruses; but if I attempted to sing along, I’d sound like a zombie. Even Brendan Kelly circa “An Evening of Extraordinary Circumstance” is intelligible. But, like I said, quickness as on the title track “New Brigade.” Three drumstick clicks in an you’re hurtling, willingly or unwillingly, by jaunty guitars and whiplashing stop-go’s. A far better song than the previous, especially when the tempo just falls off a cliff.
Dan Kjær Nielsen is a tremendous force on the album, and one listen to “Remember” and “Rotting Heights” can attest to this. The cymbals mask the drumming underneath, yet Dan has a masterful control of those bright sounds as when Elias joins in. “Broken Bone” is the best track on New Brigade, mostly because those two aforementioned elements find each other without the other being locked out musically. Elias seems to be trying, varying up notes that coincide very well with the rest of the band. Johan Wieth has a searing guitar riff around 1’41” that is akin to a BMW M5 commercial gone wrong with the car swerving off one of those curves (which we all would rather see in America).
“You’re Blessed” also stands out, raw with the classic punk singing you’d hear. The cacophony falls through the floor into driving riffs and supercharged snares. Dan once again fades away from the cymbals midway though, reinforcing that pounding churn. “If you could keep me together…” is one of the few intelligible lyrics on the album, and when you do understand it, it’s as if the fog rolls away on an otherwise somewhat obscure record.
Iceage’s New Brigade is a solid debut for a post-punk band. You can’t understand the lyrics, which unfortunately post-punk and punk rely a lot upon. Even early recordings of many punk stalwarts sound cleaner. I’m not sure if they’re searching for that rough draft quality in a digitalized Garageband-era, but I hope not as it just is muddied and gets in the way of Dan, Johan, Elias and Jakob. I will, however, be on the lookout for their sophomore album. From their sound, if you’re up for a classic punk show, see them when they’re in your neck of the woods.