This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Favorite Tracks: “Painkiller,” “Under the Sun,” “Catch It,” “Take It All,” “Showtime,” “Beyondless”
We may have been under a pavilion, but the heat was easily burning through. The trop-housers that would indulge in Jamie XX’s set later that very weekend were pared down into a gaggle of sweaty louts fiending for some moshing among a festival full of blissed-out spunions. And so, it was an intimate set; being a festival primarily known for its mix of EDM late nights and stoned jam band roots, not many people even knew or cared to know some Danish punk band.
The members swaggered on the stage, hair in front of their faces, adorned in the last clothes one should wear in such summer weather. Frontman Elias Bender Ronnenfelt looked like he just got out of bed, his grip on the mic the only thing keeping him from collapsing. His thick henley shirt drooped as if it too was melting. Iceage was out of place in almost every way; they weren’t in Copenhangen anymore, rather they were musical outliers in the lineup, with a brand of post-punk that was better suited for cold nights and dingy warehouses, not a humid, 85-degree day in a Tennessee field. As an onlooker, I worried for a moment that they, and everyone else in the crowd, lacked the enthusiasm to make this a rewarding experience. But my doubt was immediately quelled as soon as those opening guitars of “Ecstasy” came in, swathing us in all their frigid distortion. Their music cut through everything—the sweat, the swelter, the infringing pop and EDM. It wasn’t long before I got totally lost in it. Four years after their last album, and Iceage has emerged from their hibernation to envelope us again with BEYONDLESS, their most clear-eyed and glorious effort yet.
Iceage could always do a lot with little. Much of their work prior packed a punch in all of its spare, post-punk simplicity. That same punch returns on BEYONDLESS, this time more polished, straightforward, and magnificent as ever. “Catch It,” fittingly the album’s midway peak, feels like a complete submergence into this grandeur: fierce drums and tambourine stomp over the track while thick, spiraling guitars clash and entwine with more spindly strings. Initially, there’s a sense of control, even with the flurry of music. But as Ronnenfelt continually repeats, “You reel in then you catch it / Catch it, catch it, catch it, catch it, catch it,” the mantra sounds more and more futile in the face of whatever beast is on his hook. By the 3:42 mark, there’s a momentary lull. It felt like a scene from JAWS, where Brody and the crew think that the shark has retreated, when really it’s barreling underwater for a second attack. A bass line bubbles in and that lone fin peeks up, cutting through the sea. Shortly after, the percussion and guitar join in more surlier and frenzied than before, and we glance into the helical maws of the monster. Yet, Ronnenfelt stares on unflinchingly: “I said you want it, you want it, you want it again / Why don’t you come and touch it, I adore you, my friend,” and it appears all has been tamed.
“Catch it” may be the centerpiece, but that doesn’t mean any of the songs sandwiching it aren’t just as spectacular. “Pain Killer” triumphs with horns and steely guitars, while Ronnenfelt’s pendulous vocals harmonize with those of an equally narcotized Sky Ferreira. “Under the Sun” warms with lush production and a fantastic symbiosis between Ronnenfelt and the epic violin of Nils Gröndahl. A sensual saxophone brings on goosebumps as it cries out in the penultimate “Showtime,” a great example of Iceage’s virtuosity. It successfully goes vaudevillian as it mirrors it’s titular setting, and in both delivery and content, Ronnenfelt’s storytelling ranks among the likes of Nick Cave or Mark Kozelek, as he sharply satirizes the consumers of art.
While all the personnel kill it, Dan Kjaer Nielsen manages to best everyone with his colorful drumming. There wasn’t one moment that doesn’t captivate: he can give you aggression, he can give you patience, he can give you beauty. Given the cinematic proportions present, Nielsen is an invaluable ally to Ronnenfelt, although with that said, Ronnenfelt is the captain here and without him, BEYONDLESS wouldn’t be the incredible experience that it is. His lyricism oozes with wit and ingenuity. He imbues each song with a rare charisma. It’s not just singing for him, it’s dogged performance. As he searches for God in “Under the Sun” his desperation is vivified. I can see him trudging through this arid wasteland, clothes in rags, morale at an all-time-low. Whereas “Catch It” demonstrated fervent perseverance, “The Day the Music Dies” sees him channeling that fire towards self-destruction as he tears himself apart for his craft.
Like the title itself, BEYONDLESS feels like an endless journey, with Ronnenfelt being our absurd hero trying to reach something he knows he never will. While at times he sounds exhausted or in despair, the closing title track suggests contentment. Perhaps he’s ok with no goal in sight; for him, the end of the road would mean an end to the adventure, to learning, and to experiencing. In this fuzzy, “beyondless” chasm of bounding, plangent melody, I felt the same as him, and the same way when I first saw them: “perfectly lost at sea internally.”