Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: Seek Shelter, the newest LP from Danish post-punk rockers Iceage, is not a pandemic record. Speaking to vocalist and guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt through a hastily patched Zoom connection, it’s clear that any reference such an eerily prophetic title might have to the last twelve months of collective global trauma is purely coincidental.
“As a title, it wasn’t supposed to be an analogy for any one thing,” says the affable and softly spoken frontman. “I just felt like there was a thing weaving through the songs, that they were all in some sort of nasty weather, figuratively speaking. There was [something] in them that was longing for haven, for redemption, for a safety that they perhaps didn’t have.”
Rønnenfelt isn’t just waxing figurative about the weather though. In all the ways that objects (or people) can be viewed as the product of their environment, Seek Shelter—the band’s fifth full-length album and first for new label, Mexican Summer—is no exception.
“We were there for twelve days and I think it was raining for ten of them,” says Rønnenfelt of Namouche, the dilapidated, wood-panelled vintage studio in Lisbon, Portugal, where the band decamped to record the album in late 2019. “The rain was coming down from the ceiling in such a way that at some points we had to have buckets on the floor to catch the raindrops. It was quite unkempt. It felt a bit haunted, a bit cracked. There [was] a lot of atmosphere in the way that it hadn’t been that well attended to. A lot of things didn’t work.”
While such a location might sound less than ideal for a new creative project, Rønnenfelt is quick to add that the experience was an overwhelmingly positive one.
“I’m not slagging the studio, like it’s quite fantastic in that way,” explains the frontman. “You can smoke in there, which is a rare thing these days. And there was an all-round great guy that owns the studio who also helped along with the smoke—like two, three packs of Marlboro cigarettes a day in the little mixing room. So, there was this haze of nicotine in the air. Maybe that paints a picture?”
Indeed, it does. Listening to Seek Shelter, the impressions conjured up are both vivid and abstract. Lead single “Vendetta” spins up a woozy, lethargic groove worthy of The Bad Seeds at their best, with lyrical detours into street-side drug dens and cut-throat economics. The jazz-inspired “Drink Rain” and harmonica-inflected “Gold City” appear to be crafted with the dank corners of a dimly lit lounge bar in mind.
Elsewhere, bright horn sections complement the forlorn rhythms of “Dear Saint Cecilia,” evoking the patron saint of music and poetry, and the sombre “Love Kills Slowly” makes full use of a gospel choir collective. Mystical closer “The Holding Hand” pitches Rønnenfelt’s intoxicating incantations against a sprawling sonic palette populated by unsettling violins, electronic glitches, and eerie melodies.
Alongside long-time collaborator Nis Bysted, Seek Shelter also marks the first time Iceage have enlisted the services of an outside producer, recruiting the talents of Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember of Spacemen 3, who had previously expressed his desire to produce for the band in an interview). Rønnenfelt describes Kember’s presence as a necessary desire.
“We didn’t need anybody to go and tell us what to do or to rearrange the song writing itself. We needed a sparring partner who had ideas,” he says. “[Kember] just came in with a truckload of strange pedals and equipment, and machinery, and guitars. It was all very natural and loose. He would jump in with an idea for a sound, or we could talk with him about it. You know, especially for me, not being very technically minded, I usually speak of sounds in a sort of imagery, and he could very much pick up on that. Like, if you need your guitar to sound like a car crash here, he knew what we were talking about. So, yeah, it was just a very free-flowing experience.”
Purchase Seek Shelter here.