Whether it’s 2013’s caustic You’re Nothing or the next year’s wholly unfortunate Plowing into the Field of Love , Iceage seem to be making a name for themselves in memorable album titles. Then, being a fan of indie rock it’s hard not to take this new one in as a reference to Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond, which not only issued just 10 years ago but marked likewise a return after a band’s brief hiatus.
Both bands make something on the fringes of punk rock, the Denmark quartet as I’ve remarked on this blog generally handling the hardcore end of things but dripping it with a certain melodic sense, which doesn’t so much take the form of a Beatles influence (their songwriting as a WHOLE isn’t poppy in any regard), but rather maybe the twisted playfulness of Talking Heads or XTC, who seem so cloaked in irony that they’re essentially he** bent on messing with the listeners’ heads.
Unlike these ’80 dance-punk players, though, Iceage have glimpsed the dead ends of punk rock (obvious from their current album title) but have “plowed” ahead anyway. Sometimes the only answer is to become sharper, wittier and… maybe… more sensitive. Eh, that’s a stretch. But let’s see what they’re doing.
One thing you notice right away is that they’re doing a COLLABO, something I hadn’t pegged as within their oeuvre (hardcore punk bands typically don’t lean toward getting on and vibing about taking xanies and collecting panties). Their victim this time: 2013’s Sky Ferreira, who looks and sounds, right down to the song titles and with a murky, busy brand of industrial, cover art nakedness and bedroom themes, like maybe the world indeed should have ended in 2012. Still, I’ll listen to “Hurrah” first. To be honest I ignored Plowing into the Field of Love because of the title, so I really have no idea what to expect. To my refreshment, the first minute of “Hurrah” is way less DRAMATIC than I’d expected it to be: after a brief 15-second bout of return the band kicks into a groove, like a lazy Sleater-Kinney upon scrappily minor chords and an interesting guitar sound that bespeaks this band being a quartet. Drummer Dan Kjaer Nielsen is on point all over the place with the fills, something I always liked about this band.
“Pain Killer,” their Ferreira session, has her piping in on background vocals, and a trumpet gracing an intro and an interlude between first chorus and second verse. When Ferreira has left by track three and we come to “Under the Sun,” it’s clear that this band has crafted an album with sequencing knack and with purpose. They slow things down markedly here, still toggling hauntingly between minor and major chord, lead singer Elias Benner Ronnenfelt as usual sounding either sort of drunk or like he really hates singing in English, neither of which really get in the way of the feeling too bad, especially since everybody already understands the feelings involved in punk rock pretty well, the difference here being that unlike Minor Threat, this music comes across as full of body and even FUN, of all things, despite its stature as basically a direct soundtrack of the apocalypse. “The Day the Music Dies” and its Billy Squier riff cement Beyondless as the band’s most anthemic, the groove still weirdly speeding up at certain times, allowing at one point for a Beach House-type keyboard which of course is obstinately male and sharp, as if to say, ok, we’ll play this pop game if we have to, since it’s the only place for us to go at this point. Trumpets come in on this cut too, like on “Pain Killer,” popping up at completely unpredictable spots. Beyondless plays a bit, in this approachable form like Liars (2007), the brainchild of a band capable of revving up the Black and Decker punk or making your ears bleed then unveiling a ceremonious Stevie Wonder influence out of nowhere, and having it all work and be unpredictable, too.
 I guess we can label this the band’s “Spinal Tap years.”