I’ve always been led to believe that Los Angeles had a dark, dangerous and complicated core. A walk through Hollywood (in the daytime, no less) is enough to give you chills. I’d just always assumed that with Beverly Hills a mile away it’s probably just a superficial ploy to stunt western migration. Icebird is a Koreatown threesome with enough scary energy to suggest that beneath the dirty surface and glam interior, strange things actually do cultivate in the city’s wet corners. The band seems to have grown out of the ’90s grit that most bands today are too scared to build on. For all the countless Nine Inch Nails imitators, nobody was man enough to take on the Jesus Lizard?
Icebird is game, and Magnitude is a raw, ferocious debut. “The Clap the Burn the End” is a safe enough opener. What’s good for Franz Ferdinand is probably good for a band working to get noticed, and the band spins Gang of Four’s “Ether” to its advantage. The stilted, direct guitar heads on a bee line around the vocals, but things get a little messier as the album progresses. “The Starting Line” is a good example of that. Lead singer Barry Monahan (his brother Mike on bass and Kate Wise on drums close out the group) feeds off the Jesus Lizard’s David Yow by slowing down to speak at times (“Birthday Party”) before going back to sounding like Satan. I’m pretty sure Yow is trapped in a nightmare somewhere, and Magnitude gives off that same vibe.
Fans of the Meat Puppets’ early work will like what they get here. Icebird is relentless with the cavalier wailing over quick-fingered super-speed guitar work (although the Meat Puppets similarities end there). Monahan seems to have taken the rest of his vocal style from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, with always-desperate and occasionally drawn-out “harmonizing” (“Ohio” and “The Real Pretend”). Those who like their punk in short, sporadic bursts would probably rather Icebird hadn’t taken that quality from Sonic Youth. Some of the tracks are a bit too ambitious in length, although as I await Oliver Stone’s Alexander from Netflix I have to remember that it’s better to fail on the side of ambition. This is a minor issue, and the members of Icebird even manage to nail it when they think Minutemen on the seventy-four-second-long “Hollywon’t.”
For those who have fallen into a rut trying to find the next Shins, Magnitude is a dirty little surprise that reminds us that punk can be indie, too. And it’s comforting to know people are still doing weird things behind closed doors in L.A.