Wed July 21, Crocodile,
9 pm, $8 adv/$10 DOS.
The legend of guitarist Aaron North precedes the Icarus Line. He's the incendiary, corrosive-tongued cofounder of the caustic music and gossip site/record label Buddyhead. At 2002's SXSW, North plundered a case containing Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar and invited a homeless man to sit in his place as a panelist. Between his band and Buddyhead, North has been directly and indirectly responsible for tagging tour busses with slams like "$ellout$," releasing prank calls to music industry stalwarts on CD (Buddyhead Suicide), and publishing the phone numbers of mall punk and rap-rock acts he thinks suck.
In a word, North talks a lot of shit. As does Icarus Line frontman Joe Cardamone, who told British music mag Loose Lips Sink Ships, "I'm not gonna take criticism from someone whose record collection is probably smaller than my collection of golf clubs. And I don't have any golf clubs." The Icarus Line sound like pretentious pricks to some, but actually they're exactly the antichrists the music industry's bullshit requires. At a time when a band as formulaic as the Vines merits 3,000 words of hyperbole for being demented, headstrong, outspoken talent should be viciously provocative, even if they then sign to a major label--in the Icarus Line's case, V2--themselves.
Despite their adolescent sarcasm and reflexive, balled-fisted disgust with record-label excess, the Icarus Line have made the best record of their six-year career with Penance Soiree, one as musically, vocally, and lyrically contradictory as its most prominent members' brazen attitudes. More importantly, they've also just made one of the best albums of 2004.
"They gave me a CD [with] no song titles--in fact it was just 15 minutes of continuous music," says V2 A&R man Jon Sidel about what attracted him to this overtly anti-major-label act. "This was no demo, it was an undeniable state of mind. [The] message is very dark and angry--it's the true spirit of what we used to call 'punk rock.'"
The gripping aspect of the Icarus Line's music is the fearless, reckless girth of their sound, one that reflects their attitudes and expands well beyond standard-issue rock's linear confines. The 10-pound guitar riffs are wrecked with feedback. The rhythm section erupts with volcanic fury then spreads a molten, midnight sound through the depths of the tracks. Frontman Joe Cardamone's howling vocals--equal parts slurred, squinty-eyed come-ons and raging condemnations--create a possessed aesthetic as psychedelic as the substances in his astute lyrics. It's a volatile, melodic, brooding-to-bellowing sound that erects walls of droning, shoegazer-influenced guitar work, and then comes kicking and screaming at the more stoic foundations of that genre.
Penance, the follow-up to their 2001 debut, Mono, is an intense trip, as artfully crafted and as far from the band's hotheaded pranks as you can get. It's the sound of getting serious without sacrificing the stance of agent provocateur--a methodology that gained steam when they fired their management team and rhythm section before the album was made, leaving North, Cardamone, and guitarist Alvin DeGuzman with new bassist Don Devore and drummer Jeff Watson as the future foundation of the group.
From there, the style-shattering Penance emerged. "We broke a lot of equipment to make things sound certain ways--songs that sound more distorted [used] really expensive tube microphones that I ended up breaking somehow, and there were amps that we accidentally blew up trying to [create something] that actually sounded a lot better after they blew up," says North. He adds that they shaped each song individually, switching out drum sets, guitars, amps, and microphones depending on the feel of the song.
In addition to breaking equipment, North is only too happy to continue to bash the music industry even as he works within it himself. "Nobody wants to offend anybody because that'll hurt their career," he says. "And everyone [is] afraid of trying to have a good time. You don't need to be so fucking serious. So what, sometimes you'll do something to fucking embarrass yourself. Is it really that big of a fucking deal? We're not politicians--it's fucking rock music."
With that attitude, North is certain the Icarus Line have crushed the hand that feeds them, and despite glowing write-ups in Mojo, Spin, and Fader, he still claims there's a bias against his group, but one that only fuels his fire. "People are afraid," he says, "and the people in certain circles... we've pissed too many people off. But really, I don't give a shit."