For Screening Purposes Only
est Icicles, we hardly knew ye.
To the devastation of a few nascent fans and hardly any critics, the spazzy dance-punk newcomers disbanded last week, not six months removed from the release of a full-length debut in their native England, and a scant few weeks following its arrival on U.S. shores.
If it sticks, it’ll be an ignominious end to a “career” that had barely begun to crest its initial wave of hype, one that hardly lasted long enough to inspire any deep-seated devotion from listeners and was largely dismissed altogether by all but the most sycophantic (read: NME) journalists. You could say the Icicles’ life span ended prematurely, or even that they were stillborn, but in all honesty their existence in the public consciousness never even came that close to fruition. No, this was an abortion, plain and simple, and in terms of being messy and mostly unwanted it’s a metaphor many of the band’s detractors would likely endorse. Given the seeming ridiculousness of their dissolution (even more pitiful if it’s all a ruse), the artificial feel of their overnight ascent, and the intrinsic absurdity of their music in general, it’d be easy to let the Icicles slip into oblivion with nary another wasted thought.
Which would be a mistake, because these insufferable industry darlings actually made a highly enjoyable album before ostensibly bowing out, one that’s louder than the Liars, more fun than the (new) Strokes, and ten times more dynamic than the Arctic Monkeys.
Picking up where hardcore-informed indies like the Blood Brothers left off, the Icicles are less faithfully wed to punk and more interested in dance-derived rhythms, deploying tighter-coiled riffs and more distinctive beats than most of their screamo ilk. There’s a much clearer awareness of commercial aspirations here compared to your typical thrashing set, and so roughly half the record offers almost-conventional anthemics to offset the lung-shredding mayhem that reigns elsewhere. In particular, the college-friendly “Pull the Lever,” psych-informed “Snowball,” and halfway-stirring closer “What’s in the Box” all make approximate pretenses of songcraft and melodic structure. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a noticeable undercurrent of emo here too, which would’ve been unbearable in larger doses but actually feels charged and compelling in the momentary tantrums of “Maintain the Focus” and “Boa vs. Python.”
The flip side of all this sporadic sincerity is a whole bunch of moronic mugging, which also happens to be the Test Icicles’ strongest suit. Practically mathy in their ADD-addled willingness to change tempo and tone at a moment’s notice, the Icicles posit plenty, whether it’s blitzkrieg screaming and farting beats on “Catch It,” taut dance-punk and faux-Beasties ‘tard-rap on “Boa vs. Python,” or poppy bass and pure psychosis on “Sharks.”
Of course, there’s a chance the Icicles’ apparent demise will prove to be a hoax, a cheap publicity ploy to keep their names in the papers a few extra weeks, which would be a real shame considering For Screening Purposes Only is far too good of an album to warrant such puppetry.
If it’s legit, however, the band’s split is just that much more of a waste. The life cycle of a popular musician is all about building mythology and maintaining a narrative, each new release, whether it’s good or bad, inevitably deepening our sense of an artist’s distinctive voice and character, helping us understand what you uniquely mean when you say the same words everyone else says in their songs. In that respect, a band without a future suddenly becomes a whole lot less interesting, especially one that didn’t stick around long enough to give us much to figure out in the first place. No matter how exciting, giddy and explosive the Icicles sound then, FSPO can’t help but feel like a dead-end.