Elias Ronnenfelt has just shown up, 20 minutes into a 30-minute interview. I’ve been chatting pleasantly with the rest of his punk-rock band Iceage in their lightly disheveled Soho hotel room when he traipses in, pink-faced in a light leather jacket. It's a 20-degree January morning, and he’s apparently decided on an unlikely stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge over this bit of business for the band’s new record, You’re Nothing. Ronnenfelt’s aversion to press has developed quickly since the young band’s debut, New Brigade, broke through in 2011. While standards of nippiness may vary for a strapping Copenhagen lad, the bridge air must have bitten harder than I could have.
“You can ask all of us about Scott Walker,” was his response to a question about the singer he’s cited as a constant inspiration, a famous recluse whose work is not aggressive punk, unless you get really loose and cerebral when defining your terms. I'd asked him specifically, but the band lit up en masse for Walker talk, said they’d listened to nothing much else lately, and they admired that his music had “something really grand to it.” Johan Suurballe Wieth, the thoughtful blond guitarist who’d done most of the talking before Ronnenfelt’s entrance, looked mildly hurt that I only liked parts of Walker’s newest record, the avant-garde nightmare Bish Bosch. “That’s how everyone feels,” he sighed. “I really like it.”
“We don’t exactly sound very much like Scott Walker,” Ronnenfelt admitted. And it's true. On You’re Nothing, Iceage still sounds like a gloomy European punk band and not suddenly a gang of art-pop crooners. They gained attention as precocious teen punks from a thriving Denmark scene, and they kept it by showing a better initial sense of melody than tons of longstanding hardcore bands ever develop. New Brigade was furious, choppy and brief but also brimming with effective hooks and an abundance of ideas that are often abandoned as suddenly as they're introduced. Old recordings of fledgling Wire gigs were a useful reference, but the band often looked so miserable in their fresh-faced youth that Joy Division got mentioned more. Their seriousness, their mildly exotic geography, their soured cuteness—what their new label Matador Records sees in them isn’t a mystery. Ronnenfelt denies being a fan of any of the imprint’s storied bands, but the signing is hardly some cynical aberration to its legacy. You’re Nothing is really quite good.
I’d describe the record as less fun than New Brigade but even more adamant and striking. Compared to their earlier stuff, it does indeed have something that's a little grand. The band writes lyrics in English because Danish seems too direct and preachy to them, they say. A new one, “Rodfæstet,” is the first time they’ve done something in their native language. Concerned about the implication, I asked about the viability of Danish poetry, which Wieth says “can be really beautiful, but also really shitty.” In English, their lyrics express high drama and deep, painful feeling. It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that the howled chorus, “Broken promise, where’s your morals?” is a subtler, more florid version of that accusation.