Icarus Himself had always been an outlet for individual exploration. Initially conceived as a solo project for National Beekeepers Society’s Nick Whetro, the guitarist eventually left and disbanded his old group to focus solely on producing his brand of sample-laden guitar rock. And with two more members at his side, Icarus Himself’s latest, Career Culture, is exactly the ripe and nuanced record that 2009’s Mexico EP hinted at.
Career Culture is a tale of discovery, though it’s not necessarily the one you’d expect. The album’s arch was intended to portray Whetro’s journey from the lonely confines of Indiana’s industrial wasteland to the greener grasses of creativity, marriage and Madison, Wisc.; but his saga loses traction when paired up against his band’s own self-discovery that fuses both. Their sound is undeniably muscular and propulsive, but on Career Culture they litter enough lightweight moving parts to keep things from becoming too cumbersome.
And if Icarus Himself are anything, they’re deliberate. Every sample and guitar pattern on Career Culture is so meticulously charted, you sometimes lose track of each. Notes glide into each other fluidly, creating a stark contrast for the samples, muted clips and cathartic wails that pace the record.
Take “MCO,” which starts with a heavy guitar riff that stops to hang in the air while Whetro yelps about a comfort destined to be pulled out from underneath him. Each piece is carefully juxtaposed against the others, creating a crisp, full-bodied minimalism—this is what Spoon might sound like if they focused more on live sound than studio.
But Icarus Himself’s most distinctive moments come when they cut loose of their deep-throated, muscular underpinnings and embrace the agility of a higher register. Buried as the ninth track, the album’s first single, “On Your Side,” marries the group’s workmanlike rhythm section with layers of impulsive samples. The result is a propulsive and engaging melody that practically jumps off the record.
All throughout, Career Culture is most engaging in these lapses of restraint. When Whetro strains his voice to a wail on “MCO” or slows the guitars to arpeggiated chords on “You Think You Know,” the group exude a nimble liveliness that pairs surprisingly well with their smooth, assured personas. “WI via IN” is the narrative’s fulcrum, wherein Whetro finally abandons his mind-numbing day-to-day for the more pleasant scenery of Madison, Wisc. But all told, the music stays about the same on either half of the LP. “You Think You Know” and “In Sept.” are both lush companions for tempered expectations; while both “Mornings At The Bar” and “Used To Be” feature light, summery guitar parts that look back reluctantly on concerns that are thankfully regarded in past-tense.
And I suppose that’s the whole point. Whetro’s transformation is complete, and maybe we should be thankful his songwriting has evolved irreversibly from the man on the first half of Career Culture. But the narrative here is superfluous. Whetro superimposed a saga of self-discovery on a product that’s already tied to its own conclusion. That’s not an indictment so much as it is a testament to Icarus Himself’s instinctive formula for success. They’ve found a cozy niche of full-bodied minimalism for themselves, and the best parts of Career Culture are too flush to worry about whatever baggage might have come with them. The more space they put between their music and the apprehensive muscularity of their former selves, the more interesting and captivating their songs will become. They’ve already gotten themselves a pretty good start.