If there was any worry that Iceage would suffer a sophomore slump, You're Nothing has crushed it with the heavy weight of industrial-grade punk.
The Danish punks' 2011 debut, New Brigade, was impressive for the songwriting chops the 18- and 19-year-olds displayed. That talent hasn't burned out, and they're bolstering it by drawing out the songs and beefing up the sound. It's not more for the sake of more, though. The thicker layers and surprising bridges have purpose.
The first two singles, "Ecstasy" and "Coalition," start the record by setting a tough standard. The first might not sound like ecstasy, but as Elias Bender Ronnenfelt yells, "Pressure / Oh God no / Pressure," amid a shifting tangle of heavily distorted guitar and crashing drums, you wonder if it feels like ecstasy to them. "Coalition" is pure aggressive energy.
They reach the high mark a few times again, on "Everything Drifts" and the title track, most notably. "Morals" moves back and forth between a somber, martial march and a more frantic chorus that repeats some of the most intelligible words Ronnenfelt utters, "Where's your morals?" And speaking of understanding, Iceage gave us one track in their native tongue titled "Rodfaestet" and, just like the songs in English, it doesn't suffer from being indecipherable to most people.
That's not to say that the lyrics on You're Nothing aren't worth understanding. "Everything Drifts" (and its intense bass) blends rebellion and nihilism with verses like, "Dare you look into the abyss / Confront what you received / There's a vile fury within us / Despite what you've been fed / Everything drifts / Soon it's done / Don't find a place to stay."
The easiest thing to understand is that Iceage's initial success was not a fluke. You're Nothing is proof.
-- Ashley Dean
Waiting for Something to Happen
Veronica Falls is good at striking sonically appealing balances. The London quartet's reverby pop rock is relatively quiet, but doesn't lack energy. It sounds upbeat while telling sad or creepy tales. The drums are punchy, but the vocals are gentle.
All of those things that make Veronica Falls good are there on Waiting for Something to Happen. But with the exception of "Buried Alive" -- "Bury me alive / I don't care if people cry" -- the band is sounding a little less spooky this time. (The first record included a song about a notorious suicide spot.) The multi-part harmonies, lovely as ever, sound backed by a little more life force. The back-and-forth of the two guitars is a little more playful.
But there's nothing drastically or even substantially different, either in comparison to the self-titled debut or track-to-track within this record. Most of the songs hold pace at mid-tempo. "My Heart Beats" is a little louder and uglier, with yowling feedback up front and a stiffer backbone throughout, and "Broken Toy" picks up some speed. "Daniel" goes in the other direction, slowing things down and taking the drums out of the equation.
Veronica Falls doesn't really need to change things up, though. Guitar-driven and harmony-laden pop rock isn't really supposed to challenge you or foster experimentation. It just needs to be good, and Waiting for Something to Happen is great.
-- Ashley Dean