Icy Demons Miami Ice

[Obey Your Brain; 2008]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: prog rock, jazzy psych, synthrock
Others: Need New Body, Frank Zappa, Can, Bablicon, Man Man, Tortoise

Icy Demons are one of the most gratifying, intelligent, dogballs-zany acts in modern music. Their new release, Miami Ice, thrusts them once again to the brink of widespread acclaim, compelling the individual members to creative heights not yet reached by their other musical projects. Tightening the sprawl explored on their previous album, the fantastic Tears of a Clone, Miami Ice is a more polished record that further solidifies Icy Demons as bellwethers in the arena of contemporary prog pop. Primarily grooving in a summertime mentality, Pow Pow (a.k.a. Chris Powell, drummer for Man Man) and Blue Hawaii (a.k.a. Griffin Rodriguez, frontman for Bablicon) create jumping, beachy jaunts that seem as appropriate for 1980s underground Miami lounges as for this summer’s Jersey shore drug parties.

Miami Ice shows the Demons transitioning from a reliance on instrumental melodic leads to an infatuation with rich, textural development supporting improved vocal lines. It is a shift that not only allows the band to grow in terms of people (guest contributors on this album include Jeff Parker from Tortoise, Josh Abrams, Tomeka Reid, and Russell Higbee from Man Man), but also provides a more sustainable template for future albums. Such a change is evident on the album’s title track; with its synthesized arpeggios and lyrics referring to a long-sought Floridian escape, “Miami Ice” could become the closest thing to a ‘hit song’ that this group has ever made. “1850” is an ambitious truckride of a song that combines their signature vibraphone and syncopated singing with some genuine throwback Zappa cacophony. “Crittin’ Down to Baba’s” closes out the album with a rolling baseline, head-bobbing electronic beat, and inane rapping — even when they are making more traditional ‘urban’ music (Philly music?), Icy Demons evidently still feel most comfortable when not taking themselves too seriously.

Rodriguez and Powell have seemingly developed an efficient method for long-distance musical collaboration between Philadelphia and Chicago. There are so many subtle idiosyncratic details in their songs that one could imagine Rodriguez and Powell sending songs-in-progress back and forth to each other, allowing each member to add/edit new layers without the other’s influence, pulling each track in a dozen directions while the general theme of the piece races forward. Even a mellow song like “Jantar Mantar” has enough layered melodies and random introductions of new sounds that it seems unlikely to have been crafted according to grand design (hmm... kind of like the reverse of the traditional evolution/intelligent design argument). Regardless, as their previous efforts portrayed a duo actively trying to define a new sound through adding depth and complementing each other's musical ideas, Miami Ice showcases a more cohesive group that's refining their songmanship by throwing everything at the wall and recording what sticks. Clearly, such cohesion is not necessarily obvious on a fantasy-bent record, with each attention-deficient song purposely trying to sound different from the one before.

Perhaps Miami Ice plays as more of a ‘party record’ than Tears of a Clone, because it appears they now tend to use four-measure instead of eight-measure progressions with a more immediate focus on catchy vocals. Unfortunately, the short length of this album is a drawback; with nine tracks totaling less than 32 minutes, there is barely enough material to get the party started. Additionally, although Powell’s drumming influence is pervasive throughout the record, it would be nice to hear his boisterous style break through and transform a couple of the songs. If forced to choose, this reviewer would say that Miami Ice slightly lags Tears of a Clone; however, fans can still be excited that Icy Demons are moving in a strong, creative, and ambitious direction.

Most Read