On their MySpace page, Minneapolis, Minnesota-native quintet Ice Palace describe their music as "happy hardcore" which is both peculiar and fascinating. Those two words don't usually go together, but in the band's case it doesn't not describe.
The other descriptive words they use are "lyrical" and "rock" — both plain yet accurate. Ice Palace can be forgiven for using the general umbrella genre; however, lyrical hit me strangely. They didn't use poetic, which I imagine musicians more in the vein of Bob Dylan or Neil Young.
I guess I've always associated lyrical with limericks or more amusing songs, like in the sassiness of Nellie McKay or the sarcasm of A Camp. In the end, happy hardcore fits better.
Wonder Subtly Crushing Us is Ice Palace's second full-length LP, and first album on fellow Minnesota band Cloud Cult's eco-friendly Earthology Records. Cloud Cult's frontman Craig Minowa helped produce the album alongside the five-piece (Adam Sorensen – vocals/guitar, Jacob Grun – guitar/vocals, Amy Hager – keys, vocals, trumpet, Jacob Mullis – bass, vocals, guitar, and Joe Gaskill – drums). Ice Palace self-released their debut Bright Leaf Left in 2007.
Sorensen and Minowa have been friends for over a decade, and Wonder Subtly Crushing Us represents the first real (pseudo) collaboration between the two since their work on a single 4-track 15 years ago.
There isn't any noticeable Cloud Cult influence on Ice Palace's sophomore album, which seems like a mishmash of varying sounds. The opening "Phonebook Pillow" somewhat reveals the validity of the happy hardcore description with its overt positivity and quasi-ska punk sensibility.
This styling is found on other tracks ("Devils Tower" and "Thoughts/Facts"), but the whole album feels underwhelming when the happy-go-luck affair is juxtaposed to more folksy tracks like "Lily" and "Coliseum." Oddly enough, the more interesting songs are the moodier ones. The brooding "Just Wait" exudes mysteriousness similar to a throwback to a spaghetti western, while "Younger In A Year" feels like it could be the anthem track to a Wes Anderson movie.
Unfortunately, Wonder Subtly Crushing Us runs at a short 32-minutes, which makes its inconsistencies more apparent. Ice Palace could have gone more in either the happy hardcore or the folksy Americana direction, but instead trod down both for a very 'is that it?' experience.