Iceage has gone to questionable — and sometimes straight up embarrassing — lengths to cultivate an image as literate yet dangerous blood brothers (Burzum badges! Vague fascist allusions! Knives!).
Unsurprising, then, that the band’s vocalist, Elias Ronnenfelt, should show a similar flair for gesture while trying to reconfigure himself as a poet of icy sensuality with Vår, a project co-founded with fellow Copenhagen punk Loke Rahbek of Sexdrome. As Vår, they’ve used a mirror for an album cover (explains Rahbek, “Looking at it, you are the cover”). They have a music video that’s a love letter to a childhood buddy turned male stripper. They changed their name from War to the Danish word for “spring.” And now, expanded to a quartet, they’ve made No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers, a record that’s at least as pretentious as all of this suggests. But really, no one can make pretention seem as interesting as a band of brooding Danes who are just old enough to begin eulogizing their teenage years. The competing elements of stone-faced self-seriousness and naïve curiosity toward proto-industrial electronic textures on display here take Vår to some places no one else is bothering to explore right now.
Aside from “The World Fell,” a piece of wellspring-pure electro-pop, what they’ve come up with on No One is far from the dance record teased by more rhythmic early cuts “Brodermordet” and “The Boy or the Boot.” Each song on the LP feels like a risk, spiritually connected to the music that surrounds it but, but sonically unpredictable.
The wheezing call-to-arms of “Pictures of Today/Victorial” disassembles, then rebuilds, the fusion of aching fraternal love and primitive violence that catalyzes so many Iceage songs. The title song, meanwhile, features Margaret Chardiet of Pharmakon reciting a spoken word piece over snow-blind ambient drift that recalls Eno’s shadowy Ambient 4: On Land. In other places, the album plays like particularly well conceived “What might have happened had Ian lived?” Joy Division fan fiction; the specter of “Atmosphere” looms heavily over glacially pretty songs like “Begin to Remember” and “Katla.” Then, late in the tracklist comes “Into Distance,” an unexpectedly loose and melodic, acoustic-based song. With Ronnenfelt strangling his voice into Robert Smith-like contortions and the late, left field addition of a funereal trumpet part, the song edges in the direction of the Cure’s anything-goes, mid-‘80s coming-out-party.
“Into Distance” goes to show that while this project tends toward sparseness and restraint, it wasn’t made with asceticism in mind. Vår may be disciplined, but they also know when to indulge. No One is the rare record that succeeds not in spite of its pretentions, but at least to some degree, because of them, and the way they mingle with the band’s adventurousness. And, amazingly, it all comes in a package that doesn’t vacuously dick around with right-wing extremist imagery.