ICARUS HIMSELF – Coffins
(2009 Self-Release/Science of Sound)
Unlike the hothead they take their name from, it is almost impossible to get Icarus Himself riled up. In the course of the eleven songs on their sophomore record, only “Flatwoods, WV” even breaks a sweat, and that’s only in the last thirty seconds. Even though there is plenty to get upset about in the first two minutes—like the narrator’s grandfather forcing his mother to give his older brother up for adoption and not being told about it for nearly twenty years—Nick Whetro’s voice remains deadpan over the quick strum of the guitar and click of the drums. That is “until they put pennies on her eyes” and her death breaks the hold of “nineteen years of deception, a hundred tears for a lie” and the song ends with a squawk of feedback.
Heck, that little bit of heat wouldn’t even melt off more than a couple of feathers. Throughout Coffins, Whetro and Karl Christenson, who is also a partner in crime in the National Beekeepers Society, play it cool, sounding like Jeff Magnum (of acknowledged influence Neutral Milk Hotel) might if his nervous breakdown had been treated with lithium and electroshock. Even songs that start off sounding angry (“There were words spoken, those words hurt like hell”) and build (“I’m trying to be patient, but only time will tell”) eventually diffuse with the admission, “Sometimes I can’t stand you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you around” (which is also the title).
Even though Icarus Himself is essentially Whetro’s solo project, he gets plenty of help from his friends. Christenson also joins him in the live incarnation of the band, which seldom runs as smoothly as the songs on this disc, playing baritone guitar and handling the sampler and looping pedal. Fellow Beekeepers Brad Motl and Kris Hansen also contributed, as well as Elliott Kozel and Michael Sienkowski of Sleeping in the Aviary. The lyrics to “January (Tennessee)” are attributed to Whetro and Kozel, and it took me more than a minute to puzzle out why they were so familiar. The repeated lines “On the floor in Tennessee, you married me/You were bored in New Orleans, you married me,” also show up in Aviary’s “Pop Song,” though in their case they are yelped instead of intoned, an actual pop song instead of a requiem.
It’s not that Coffins is boring, not at all. It just prefers to take things easy, and that’s really OK. It’s a well-crafted and intriguing record that lends itself to multiple listens despite the similarity of the songs (just try telling the title track and “Precedents” apart in the first ten seconds) and the thirty minute run time. While some musicians have a hard time deciding which compositions go to the band and which to their solo venture, in Whetro’s case the songs seem to sort themselves: excitable Pavement-esque rockers, Beekeepers pile; don’t want to (or just can’t) get that worked up, that’s an Icarus. Though it appears the occasional song can go either way.
“Scars” was the standout track on the Beekeepers ambitious debut. It reappears here with its heroine Mary and her “very discerning hates in the clothes she wears and who she dates” slowed down just a bit and seeming right at home. Of course, that record came before Whetro’s personality split, so it’s possible she was an Icarus girl all along. If forced to choose, I guess I am too.