When Ikons released their self-titled debut album in 2010, on our beloved Service label, it was a primarily sun-bleached album of mostly krautrock/Balearic/C86-fuelled instrumentals, with occasional lyrics and an ear for a hypnotic and beguilingly repetitive groove. The cribbing from the past continues on new album Life Rhythm but manipulates the motorik and the bliss to create something approaching a modern version of indie-dance. As Ola Borgström from Service put it, Ikons are “inverting their debut’s power-kraut into a Swedish Screamadelica“. Wait, come back! It’s actually really, really good….
That they have turned Life Rhythm into an immensely enjoyable experience rather than a debacle worthy of Kasabian or some other band who has tried to combine indie with dance rhythms is to the credit to the Gothenburg six-piece who’ve bravely chosen not to rest on their laurels, instead taking all the influences that make Sweden such a home of diversity to produce a record that distils all that was good about late 1980s and early ’90s indie music into a handy 40 minute package. There’s an obvious split to the album which makes itself apparent in the opening few tracks; opener ‘Just Gazin’ is based on a hazy and slowly-unwinding guitar line layered on top of shimmering synths; it’s a comedown that might end badly as the groove intensifies towards the end of the track but as the sun comes up, though, it’s clear that things are going to work out okay. This leads into ‘Sister’, a Byrdsian jangle with killer harmonies that sets itself apart from the DIY aspect of C86 through its pristine production – as we’ve come to expect from Service. If you don’t find yourself throwing your hands into the air in delight at the glorious bridge, then there might be something dead inside you. At the harder end of the split comes ‘Polaroid Cocaine’ which channels Giant Steps-era Boo Radleys by way of a driving guitar riff and soulfully triumphant trumpet blasts; and similar to this is following track ‘Free Spirit’ which takes synths, handclaps and bongos and creates something life-affirming across its seven minute groove, even managing to throw some spoken-word samples in there without making it unlistenable.
Ikons are taking the retro as a starting point for much of Life Rhythm but rather than being an exercise in pastiche or leaving them feeling stuck in the past, the exuberance of the band and the modernity of their approach both take the music somewhere that whilst not being entirely new, doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve heard it all before. Witness the sitar jam and chant of ‘Ink Void’, the Galaxie 500 meltdown of ‘Azalea’ or the delightful boy-girl vocals and country swing of ‘Bye Bye Bye’: you know you’ve heard it somewhere before but there’s just enough of a twist to stop you trying to find out what the source material is. Sure, it’s not always the case as you can’t listen to ‘Disapproval’ without thinking of Jesus and Mary Chain, or closing track ‘Revolve’ and deciding that Ride did it better, but these are extremely small gripes.
Whilst I’m often wary of retro-isms, Ikons need not worry about being trapped in thrall to the past; like fellow Swedes The Radio Dept. there’s genuine class, heart and musical ability that transforms what has come before them into something incredibly now. With Life Rhythm, the band is on the verge of something rather exciting.
Listen to Life Rhythm