After the fury comes the despair. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt and Loke Rahbek’s post-punk side project is a lament for all the beautiful boys who have to grow up, says Louise Brailey.
When Vår’s music was first turned loose on the world a year ago it was under the banner War. The name suited the music: “Brodermordet” (“Fractricide”) was horrific, ugly, distorted and twisted to breaking point. At best it sounded like a recording of a punk gig recorded on binaural mics at floor level somewhere in the carpark; a conflict between harmonics and distortion where the distortion played dirty. Not a great surprise that War—later Vår (“Spring”)—was the project of two players in the Danish punk scene, a locus of bands in Copenhagen who blew up in 2011, Loke Rahbek of Sexdrome and Elias Bender Rønnenfelt of Iceage. Iceage, of course, are known for two things: their brilliant break out record New Brigade and a strain of violent nihilism: selling flickknives at gigs and firting with fascist imagery. This caked on an extra layer of intrigue or disgust depending on, loosely, your age and your tolerance to stupidity (Yay, blood-vital punk songs! Boo, Death in June tattoos). Just for clarification Iceage are not racists. They’re really very good. But Vår are better.
But there’s another reason why War was a fitting name. No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers is, at its heart, about men. Or rather boys. It’s a truism that when men return from war they pine for male companionship. Indeed, No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers leans on wintry post-punk melodrama and industrial thrust to convey acute, abstract longing. Padding out their set-up, they’ve recruited Copenhagen scene buddies Kristian Emdal and Lukas Højland, the broader palette de-fanging the weaponized austerity of their early work. Opener “Begin to Remember” advances like a battalion on the field, tin fifes (or synthetic approximations of) and a drum tattoo build an atmosphere of bruised, wind-lashed romance. First single “The World Fell” is a staggeringly accurate recovery of a specific kind of damaged synthpop circa 1980. On it, Rønnenfelt bellows in a puppyish Jaz Coleman-esque bark, “We shut the door on life, so we chose fire.” Because nothing says brotherly love like you and I and the world falling down. Crucially, oh so crucially, the publicity campaign around No One Dances… has hinged on a striking, photogenic homoeroticism; the hyper-masculine impulse of Copenhagen’s celebrated angry young men redirected into idealized, rarefied maleness. Press shots and candid photos frequently portray them draped languidly over one another or kissing, a tableau of male youth. The video for “In Your Arms” sees the camera lingering over the writhing tattooed body of a boyish but tough-looking young man. In all honesty, it suddenly made their previous dalliances with white power seem somewhat porny and fetishistic.
Essentially No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers is a hymn, or a lament, to beautiful boys who have to grow up, get married and leave their “brothers” forever. As far as narratives go, it’s actually conservative. Since antiquity, throughout society, literature and art ‘the boy’ has been venerated (and yup, there’s even a track called “Boy” here, an oscillating synth drone, punctuated by dry, leatherish thwacks). Similarly, there’s little here musically that breaks new ground. The most original moment on the record, “Into Distance”, manages such an accolade through its odd coupling of The Cure’s imperial age pomp with These New Puritans’ taste for wood and brass. Yet like SCUM or Savages, other bands who have a remarkable aptitude for raiding music’s dressing up box, they have enough flair to make the styles their own. As such we’re gifted such exquisite melodrama as “Katla”, where slurring synths and trumpets churn and heave while Rønnenfelt bellows inarticulately, a bit like The Cure’s “All Cats Are Grey” where Robert Smith’s vertiginous depression is written over with Rønnenfelt stomach-turning despair. Okay, so it’s ridiculous, indulgent melancholy, a musical crywank for the sensitive, hurting soul. That’s No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers in a nutshell: a chance to wallow in male beauty, aggression and angst. After all, death or worse, a deadened conventionality, marriage, kids, lies just around the corner. The fact that No One Dances grapples with such a fleeting, treasured moment is what makes it so beautiful. Damn those pretty boys.~
Vår’s No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers is out now on Sacred Bones.