Release Date: May 14, 2013
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Experimental Rock
If all you’ve heard about Iceage and their friends on the Copenhagen scene is frothing discussions about knives and Nazis, the debut album from Vår might take you by surprise. Born out of an intense friendship between Iceage frontman Elias Rønnenfelt and Loke Rahbek, founder of Copenhagen label Posh Isolation, Vår are far removed from Iceage’s blasts of fear and fury. Jagged guitars and flailing drums are replaced by electronic beats and cloudy, droning synths.
The young Danish punk group Iceage makes claustrophobic songs so short and dense they make you breathe in a shallow fashion to preserve their limited oxygen. The band has also gained what may feel like a claustrophobic reputation. The swift militaristic efficiency of their musical maneuvers, the transgressive influence of dead French surrealists, and the heavily reported flirtations with nationalist and fascist imagery have added up to a distinctly aggressive image, even though the members look more like One Direction-gone-to-seed than bellicose reactionaries.
Vår is a bastard. But perhaps such is the fate of all side projects and collaborative acts. Like an illegitimate child dubiously credited to many sonic parents, the side project inherits nothing but consternation and misplaced expectations. Perhaps we recognize its father’s eyes and mother’s nose, but the result is so uncanny that we can’t help but reel at its misshapen Otherness.
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).
Vår is the Danish word for “spring,” a time of year often associated with flowers and sunshine and singing, colorful songbirds. It’s the kind of warm, joyous scene that you would imagine none of the group’s members, based on their previous musical endeavors, have ever experienced for themselves. That’s because the members of Vår hail from Copenhagen’s notoriously aggressive and nihilistic underground punk scene, where young, emaciated looking bands craft hardcore so cold and blackened that it’s surprising Northern Europe hasn’t frozen over by now.
For Ice Age's first album, Elias Bender Rønnefelt channeled the British punk groups Warsaw and Wire. His side project Vär, with Loke Rahbek (of Sexdrome), Kristian Emdal (of Lower), and Lukas Højland, follows the trajectory of those bands, sounding now like a cross between Joy Division and the Wire side project He Said. Like the pre-industrial bands of the '80s and goth groups of this era, the mood of No One Dances Quite Like my Brothers is gloomy, morose, and borderline abrasive, but there are also sparkling aspects of dance melodies.
Vår are the electronic project of four Copenhagen-based musicians, including members of Lower and Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. If previous releases from the other projects of Vår's members were any indication of a frowning morbid streak, No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers feels like the ultimate realization of these sulking Danes' darkest collective musical visions. On their debut full-length, Vår exhibit an ambition to spiral as far as possible down into some dark abyss while maintaining a constant impression of strange beauty.
Have you ever been to Nangijala? The Copenhagen-based duo that makes up the core of VÃ¥r is banking on the fact that you haven’t. As Loke Rahbek and Elias Bender RÃ¸nnenfelt, of Sexdrome and Iceage respectively, take the requisite press tour before their debut full-length, they’ve made a number of references to a dour Swedish fairy tale called The Brothers Lionheart, where two young brothers conquer death to adventure in idyllic afterlife in a land called Nangijala. According to Rahbek, that’s the world that he and RÃ¸nnenfelt were attempting to conjure with No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers.
Pale young man, I can read your dreams. Flags of red, black and gold glowing in the light of enormous bonfires, a fraternity of youth doomed to wilt under the frost of age's ever encroaching winter, horns echoing through mountain forests and hawks circling through steel grey skies. You dream of a nation without boundaries, united only through the language of a thousand broken hearts, tears glistening on the cheeks of marble statues, drum rolls and epic poems, the glint of daggers and the swearing of blood oaths.
On the surface, it’s somewhat counter-intuitive that Copenhagen group Vår’s name translates to the Danish word for “spring”. While spring is a season that evokes ideas of new, bright beginnings, Vår’s tense and gloomy electronic music often encapsulates a feeling of dark isolation better associated with winter. In that regard, War, their original name, may have been the more appropriate selection.
Look, Vår is kind of pretentious. It’s four young men from Denmark who make art about their own anxiety, loneliness, loves, and torment. Maybe they’re chirpy dudes when they’re downing Carlsberg, but their art (which splinters into plenty of creative back alleys) isn’t. Their debut record is much like the singles that proceeded it: nine songs and 31 minutes of densely atmospheric, thumping electronic music.