You’re Nothing comes with a burden of expectation: it’s the sequel to Iceage’s full-length debut, New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?), which was released to almost instantaneous acclaim in 2011. And the burning question for this dour and brutally efficient Danish punk band is whether that momentum could possibly be sustained. (“Pressure, pressure, oh God, no,” Bender Ronnenfelt cries pitifully in the chorus of Ecstasy, the song that precedes Coalition, and opens the album. And this just after a chorus all about blissful surrender; he’s not a glass-half-full type.)
As it turns out, Iceage has only improved on its formula of turbulent energy and disaffected poetry, managing still to sound youthful, even juvenile — not such a stretch, age-wise — while reaching toward new ambitions. Along with Bender Ronnenfelt, a lead singer who thrashes around a bit on guitar, the band includes the drummer Dan Kjaer Nielsen, the bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless and the guitarist Johan Suurballe Wieth. They deliver as much heat and speed here as on New Brigade, exhausting the potential of most songs within a couple of minutes.
But this is also a band that has worked the circuit for a while now — it came through these parts last month, and will be back on April 20, at New York’s Bowery Ballroom — and it has grown tougher and more focused. There’s a lot of low-end churn and warped distortion in the Iceage sound. Yet the songs are coiled contraptions, unruly by design.
Bender Ronnenfelt squares his vocal style on sturdy precedent: he barks In Haze as if to suggest a raspier Joe Strummer, and elsewhere he calls to mind an Ian Curtis with wasps in his shoes. Bender Ronnenfelt articulates a single song on the album, Rodfaestet, in Danish, spitting out the words in a hydraulic stream. (One line translates to “rooted in frequencies,” which feels right.) His English is more deliberate, a means of conveyance for blunt cynicism: “There’s a vile fury within us / Despite what you’ve been fed,” he sings in Everything Drifts.
He’s capable of delicate imagery (from It Might Hit First: “A distant light / From an orchid’s glow”), and so there are desperate flickers of grace against a backdrop of toxicity. The album’s nihilistic title track even puts forth something approaching the philosophical. And on Coalition, Bender Ronnenfelt confronts his own romantic limitations: “Blockades run through my veins.” And: “Something denies coalition with you.” The martial imagery isn’t new for him, but he’s using it more sparingly now than before. If it’s an excess of feeling that he’s wailing about, he’s artful enough to distill it all to a bitter essence.
— NATE CHINEN, NY Times news service