Iceage began a decade ago in Copenhagen as a gaggle of 17-year-olds. That youthful exuberance and cutting angst proved the foundation of 2011’s excellent New Brigade. Yet beyond that moroseness lay an emotional and sonic depth that perpetuated this precise pastiche of hardcore and noise. That grit and prowess fully blossomed with 2013’s You’re Nothing - with Iceage streamlining its bag of musical tricks - and 2014’s Plowing Into the Fields of Love, a nuanced spin on punk that belied their twentysomething status.
It’s this year’s Beyondless that finds Iceage exploring new territories with unrivaled vigor. All but gone is the one-dimensional nihilism dominating that early catalog. The 10-track LP brims with a savvy and confidence forged by 10 years spent crawling around the big, scary world, picking up ideas and new passions while shuttering deadweight. Whether it’s the driving rhythms of “Hurrah,” the sax-powered alt-rock jam “The Day The Music Dies,” the swampy, Nick Cave-esque masterpiece “Catch It”, or the vaudevillian oddball "Showtime," Iceage hums with life. A raw stream of vigor runs through their collective bloodstream, powering the members to drill deeper into the musical unknown. With Beyondless, Iceage haven’t simply matured - they’ve rounded out raw integrity with playful heart and boundless charisma. And they’re not the only ones.
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From the frozen corners of Denmark to the dingy nightclubs of Atlanta, Black Lips has made a career in embracing existential absurdity (and penis jokes). Since 1999, the band’s made its mark with a stage show steeped in classic punk theatrics, complete with vomiting, fireworks, and nudity. That same M.O. colors the band’s preceding seven LPs, a raucous, unhinged smorgasbord of garage, punk, ‘60s rock, psychedelia, and whatever shiny sounds and ideas happened to catch the band’s attention. Some of it’s better than other - the hazy vibes of 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil feel more organic than the pristine production of 2011’s Arabia Mountain - but it’s all united under a giant neon freak flag.
If 2017’s Satan’s graffiti or God’s art? is a grand leap forward, it’s done with quintessential humor and depravity. It’s at once a powerful concept album, the story of which isn’t necessarily important given that the band dropkicks such hoity toity notions from chord one. And that’s the record’s grandest accomplishment: having flirted with pure accessibility, Black Lips is happy to turn up the weirdo vibes to 13. Just don’t mistake that for a retreat into the safety of their musical past. This 18-track behemoth is a rock sampler platter, featuring the Black Sabbath barrage of “Occidental Front,” the earnest, folksy weirdness of “Crystal Night,” the snarling blues jam “Rebel Intuition,” and the cerebral psychedelia of “It Won’t Be Long.” Here, the band utilize a large cartoon mallet to smash your tastebuds. An experience as much an LP, Satan’s… blends subtlety with insanity, a record for old or young at heart (so long as you ate paint chips as a kid).
Though originating from different ends of the punk spectrum, Iceage and Black Lips arrive at a true midway, where ideas and motivations, sounds and scenes blur. All that remains is this bedrock of grit and determination, that scrappy demeanor and jagged wit required to think one could ever outscream the cacophony. The closest thing to a destination, a true ending, before both bands blaze new trails forward into punk’s great, churning dissonance.