Iceage offshoot Vår (formerly War) makes ’80s inspired, melancholic, reverby music far removed from the brash punk of the Danish foursome. After a string of good singles, Vår finally release their debut studio album, No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers, to feverish anticipation, especially from those who loved Iceage’s first two records, 2011’s instant classic New Brigade and this year’s good-but-not-great You’re Nothing.
While Vår doesn’t reach the heights of Iceage at their best, those who are simultaneous fans of Iceage and, say, The Cure, will be pleasantly surprised by No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers’ veering towards depressed melody, with frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt actually displaying some emotion (a la Iceage’s Morals). Overall, while still sounding like the somewhat inferior side project of a legendary act in the making, Vår haunt on No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers.
The album starts out strong with Begin To Remember, a track whose slowly pounding drums and general haze sounds like the beginning of a day at best hungover and, at worst, walking along post-apocalyptic streets reflecting on what life used to be like. Meanwhile, on second track The World Fell, Vår march back in time, essentially expressing their adoration for post-punk like Joy Division, perhaps The Wall-era Pink Floyd, and definitely krautrock acts like Kraftwerk. The World Fell is danceable in the right atmosphere and does an admirable job of combining pop with dread. In other words, when the world falls, Vår dance; whether this is a darkly celebratory dance or a delirium-infused robotic rave is up for interpretation. Watching and realizing the world falling likely yields complex emotions.
In fact, it’s this newfound fascination with emotion that Rønnenfelt first explored with You’re Nothing and now explores with No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers that makes Vår a side project that could potentially eventually hold their own. Even though their emotional music is nowhere near as thrilling as Iceage’s pounding punk, you get the feeling that Rønnenfelt will eventually realize how to best express his emotions and quit trying to either master them or hide them behind ceaseless screams and noise, as he felt comparatively confused on You’re Nothing as compared to New Brigade.
The best “emotional” number on No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers is the title track, which features Pharmakon’s Margaret Chardier and consists of two and a half minutes of her repeating the album’s title, as if to follow up the previous track’s dance ambiguity. Whether with Iceage or Vår, Rønnenfelt is perhaps starting to recognize the importance of friendship and loyalty. On tracks like Iceage’s Coalition, he expressed his apathy over sex and friendship; on No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers, he enlists his friends to sing, emote and dance along with him.
Some songs here take unexpected, but lazy influence from other acts: for instance, Motionless Duties is essentially Rønnenfelt singing over a Nine Inch Nails track, minus some inspired horns thrown in. And to insert absurdist poetry over staccato electronic flourishes on Hair Like Feathers is what you’d essentially expect of a 16-year-old Rønnenfelt who thinks he’s the coolest person in the world for doing so. Still, Vår manage to save a plodding midsection with tracks like the creepy, droney and dark Boy, proving they’re jacks of multiple trades.
Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to see where Rønnenfelt goes next, whether with Iceage or Vår. Wherever he goes, it’s almost certain that, barring any outlier life-changing events, he’ll learn how to properly emote. Why? Perhaps because he’s achieved some success and is doing what he likes to do and will continue to collaborate and explore different sub genres of punk or pop. Or perhaps simply because he’ll get older, live more, and dance.