Released October 28, 2016 via Sacred Bones Records
The second full-length release from Elias Rønnenfelt’s other band, Marching Church came out last Friday. We were immediately interested in it because the lead-off singles (“Lion’s Den” and “Heart of Life”) were both totally not really what we expected from what we’d sort of presumed was an Ice Age “side-project”. Their first album, last years This World Is Not Enough, was an important instalment in the Danish post-punk revival story – however was a challenging listen for say, a casual fan. With the new album however – it’s immediately evident that this is no “dumping ground” for songs that don’t fit Iceage, that it’s no “solo project”, but a serious band making an artistic expression. The other matter is – it’s Good, like, it’s actually even catchy…and not only that – but it needs multiple listens to fully grasp, that’s why this writer had to live with it a few days until I could unload my thoughts on it.
There are a multitude of reasons why this record might be the way it is. Iceage have not been active in the studio for a few years, at least that we know of, since their third album, Plowing the Fields Of Love, a record that both delighted and expanded the fan-base of the young Copenhageners. Iceage have always been perceived as ground-zero for the punk renaissance in Europe – but naturally, the band themselves continually remain reluctant to believe they’re actually making punk music, and in a recent interview with CLRVYNT, Elias made the statement that he “never felt like he contributed anything to punk music….”, which naturally is the most punk thing you can say.
I believe it’s this distance that Rønnenfelt & co put between themselves and the scene that really defines them and makes them great. Historically, this is what makes any of the greats great. Creating something that people are bananas for, stopping it, and changing horses in mid-stream, but being able to justify it artistically. Think about even the poster boys for straight up 1st wave punk, The Clash. They made 2 punk records- and then completely switched direction into something different stylistically, two years after their inception with 1979’s London Calling, a record that mixed up their grass roots punk values, with genres that nobody expected would fit at all within the constraints of “punk” – folk, Disco, Funk, Reggae, Pop, etc. Sound familiar? Iceage – just a few years old and on their 3rd record, changed direction drastically by adding unexpected elements on a double LP that both confused and excited punk enthusiasts.
Telling It Like It Is, though, is able to stand alone as a work that fits both outside of Iceage’s catalogue, and aside from the previous Marching Church album. You can definitely tell its Elias Rønnenfelt at the fore, and upon further inspection, you can hear that fellow iceage collaborator, Johan Wieth (guitar) is able to expand Rønnenfelt’s concepts, or bring them in – depending. This record sounds like a band, and even thought the style and feel of individual numbers vary, this record comes together as a singular expression, an album’s album. This is an important record, not just for the Danish scene, but to rescue popular music as a whole from mediocrity.
The record opens with the delicate kiss of “let it come down”. Even before the vocals kick in – there’s a heavy weight to it, the swell of a string quartet over imposing minor chords. It already feels like classic Leonard Cohen, or Nick Cave at his darkest. Rønnenfelt’s lyrics on this record are in that league – I don’t mean copying the mood of Cohen or Cave, but actually in that level of writing; “will our skins ever be dry, from the blood of the still born?” as he ponders a romantic relationship. The other thing that Rønnenfelt has in common with popular music’s most celebrated dark poets is a unique and expressive singing voice – unconventional, singular, not classically beautiful in the technical sense – but instantly recognizable.
“Up For Days” continues the artistic poet/songwriter atmosphere with a sultry bongo-laden beat and octave stabs at a piano before launching into a harsh guitar driven refrain. This is late-night music; this is pushing all your senses. It’s sexy, violent and beautiful. “Heart of life” – the first single we heard from the album is an upbeat motown jab, punk style. It has a timeless vibe – makes you feel warm, like when you’re driving and a Clash song comes on. There are more than a few similarities between Joe Strummer’s frayed voice and Rønnenfelt’s. “Heart of Life” is a call to arms for love.
“Inner City Pidgeon” and “Lion’s Den” have a very urban vibe. Not urban, as in hip hop, but like cruising around a rainy city in the back of a taxi cab. Allegedly Taxi Driver’s urban dreariness had a major role in influencing Marching Church on their alternate soundtracks for the dark cinema classic. It makes sense that films have a bigger reference point than any music in the creation of this record – this is widescreen, it’s cinematic in scope. “Florida Breeze” rounds off the citified middle section of the record. There is no American sunshine here though – it’s good old fashioned downers.
“2016” hops in. It puts the listener more in mind of pre-punk Bowie, or Iggy from their Berlin era. It is a modern adaptation of it – and a modern production rears its teeth as strings swell and jagged guitars stab over Elias’ howling vocals in full on rock star mode. “Achilles Hell” has a more European vibe to it – with its melodica pinned underneath a lazy funky bass line. The album is rounded out by possibly it’s most atmospheric track, “Information” and the sweetly damaged ballad, “Calenture”, which reminds us of another great poet with a damaged persona and voice to match, Shane McGowan of the Irish folk band, The Pogues.
After living with this record for a weekend, I can honestly say that I’m still not done listening to it. That’s the mark of a future classic. From beginning to end – there is not a track or even a moment that isn’t worthwhile. I know it sounds cliché, but, No Filler. This record doesn’t come off as a side-project, a solo album or stopgap or dumping ground for Iceage. It’s a real record from a real band and I can’t imagine it getting any better. in a world that is fascinated by the post-punk of the past, Telling it Like It Is has taken everything that the punk scene of 2016 has strived to create, disassembled it, ate it and shat it back out as something new. It’s an astounding record. Its lyrics could spar with any of the big dogs of the scene and it’s timelessness and passion in expression is something to behold.
Telling It Like It is is out now. If you’re not looking to buy a vinyl (or two), you can find it on your favorite streaming service.
One of the most important records this year - not only to the Danish scene, but to the entire genre - including outside Denmark. Marching Church is a real band with a real sound. (5.5/6)