By Ben Weinstein
Iceage probably doesn’t want me writing about them; at the very least they’d be wary, and rightfully so. Since the Danish band released their debut album in 2011, most journalistic engagement has been predicated on the knowledge that they’re not interested in engaging with journalists. Looking exclusively at the written reception to Iceage’s past four years’ worth of work, their mistrust is justified increasingly by every comparison made, accurately but lazily, between them and Nick Cave, or The Gun Club, or any post-punk band that has dared lay fingers on a piano. “I see where they’re coming from,” singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt diplomatically divulged in an interview with DIY Mag several years back. “But that’s kind of watering it down a little bit.”
Years later, Iceage still doesn’t care how much their new song “Broken Hours” may or may not sound like Nick Cave or The Gun Club, and I don’t care to make those claims. What’s more intriguing is that Iceage’s new song sounds like Iceage, but not necessarily the Iceage that released their fourth LP “Beyondless” earlier this year. While that album is the band’s most sonically varied to date, incorporating everything from Sky Ferreira-assisted post-punk (“Pain Killer”) to horn-heavy vaudevillian explorations (“Showtime”), “Broken Hours” still, somehow, feels like an outlier from that collection of songs.
The intuitive explanation would be that “Broken Hours” is a B-side, and its exclusion from “Beyondless” illustrates that Iceage are aware of its dissimilarity. Closer to the truth might be the fact that “Broken Hours” is not, strictly speaking, a new song. The band has been playing it live since 2015 — less than a year after their third record “Plowing Into the Field of Love” was released — and a live video from Pitchfork Music Festival that summer captures them performing it as “Untitled.” Whatever the case, “Broken Hours” is a welcome addition to Iceage’s recorded catalogue of claustrophobic rockers.
Guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth’s sinister, drawn out chords in the intro immediately evoke a previous preoccupation of Iceage’s: the American South. The band’s “Plowing” single “The Lord’s Favorite” has been labelled everything from “soused cowpunk” to “falling-apart rockabilly,” indicating an abandonment of previous hardcore and noise rock leanings in favor of something bordering on country. The song’s video embraces some amount of Southern iconography, or at least tropes of Las Vegas-esque excess; boots kicking up dirt and dice in martini glasses flash before us as Rønnenfelt finds God, singing understatedly yet charismatically over Jakob Tvilling Pless’ bouncing bassline. Even though they’re guzzling “one-hundred Euro wine,” it doesn’t seem too big a stretch to read it as three dollar whiskey.
If “The Lord’s Favorite” saw Iceage savor Southern comfort, or, you know, just have fun getting drunk with friends, “Broken Hours” veers closer towards the South of William Faulkner’s novels or Tracy Letts’ plays — in other words, a world not quite so fun, nor hedonistic. That’s not to say the song is lacking in personality, of course; the verse of “Broken Hours” swaggers in ¾, carried largely by an entrancing bassline and drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen’s relentless reliance on his ride cymbal. “At times it’s a struggle to forget/At others it spills right out of my head,” Rønnenfelt bemoans as the guitar fades out, only to rejoin moments later with an overpowering intensity. The punishing energy of the chorus makes it feel like “Broken Hours” is a millisecond away from splintering apart, yet Rønnenfelt’s vocals rise above all and find relief in the uproar: “It lingers on, by in waves/Broken hours alleviate.” He reaches such a melodic high point as he twists the word “alleviate” around his finger that we must believe Rønnenfelt finds genuine relief in the chaos — after all, it’s where Iceage have traditionally felt most at home.