Marching Church This World Is Not Enough

[Sacred Bones/Posh Isolation; 2015]

Styles: art punk, jazz, britpop?
Others: Iceage, Nick Cave, David Bowie

“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.”
– Martin Heidegger, “What Are Poets For?”

“The Jews, with their marked talent for calculation, have been ‘living’ for the longest time by the principle of race, which is why they are resisting its consistent application with utmost violence. The establishment of racial breeding does not stem from ‘life’ itself, but from the overpowering of life through machination. What it pushes forward with such a plan is the complete deracialization of all peoples by clamping them into a uniformly constructed and tailored establishment of all beings. At one with de-racialization is the self-alienation of peoples — the loss of history — i.e., the domains of decision for Being.”
– Martin Heidegger, Schwarze Hefte

“King of Song,” with a soaring britpop hook the likes of which Plowing Into The Field Of Love only approximated, positions Iceage’s Elias Bender Rønnenfelt “Standing on top of heaps of bodies and piles of people/ Waving my flag/ Now the multitudes have gathered around me/ Grateful for each word I preach.” Remember Rønnenfelt’s spatially confused drawing of a crowd of white people (bearing Iceage’s geometric logo) assailing an ambiguously Muslim enemy with knives? I feel that, as a music writer, I have to be extremely careful here. What I’m doing is essentially advertising (even if I give something a “zero” rating), and in the case of an album released by smaller labels like Sacred Bones and Posh Isolation, I’m likely to play some role in the overall media narrative around this record. So I tread carefully. Still, I’m not as interested in feeling out any and all possible connections between this music and fascism as I am in looking neutrally at the album’s nuances, and describing the intersection of themes that produces a problematic character.

To put it differently and clarify my thoughts: this is not Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s Schwarze Hefte, though that would make for a particularly tidy (and shareable) story. There is violent narcissism here, but nothing resembling the “chic racism” of the Klansmen outfits Iceage sported in the “New Brigade” video. When I wrote about Plowing Into The Field Of Love, I chose to ignore these evidences of Rønnenfelt’s fascist sympathies, and I believe I was justified in doing so thanks in large part to the richness and complexity of that album. Again, This World Is Not Enough is a violent and narcissistic record, and I can no longer ignore the things that make me uncomfortable about Rønnenfelt, but like Plowing Into The Field Of Love, this album is rich and complex. In the world of these eight songs, Rønnenfelt is at once a conqueror and the last man alive. His universe is not Heidegger’s, in which personal history must be reclaimed violently, but one of woeful grandeur.

The world as described by Rønnenfelt is usually very rich and complicated, but here it’s Not Enough, because he’s so hungry for its limited fruits. Expressions of deferred desire like “Hungry For Your Love” are par for the course, but for the first time, and especially with tracks like “Every Child,” the music could be a representation of the anxious mind speaking through the lyrics. In a way, Rønnenfelt is too preoccupied with the imperfection of his own sense-experience to proceed in the way of his idealized violent conquest. “The Dark End of the Street” is a whispered resignation to obscurity and reflection. When Rønnenfelt sings about action or self-expression, it is always an unsure leap of faith, like “Calling Out A Name,” or as I’ll look at more closely below, an act of the creative will.

In a startling change of pace, “Your Father’s Eyes” gives a deliberately non-representative, essentially incomplete, and still very sensitive account of sexual assault. Its lyrics are precise and passionate in tracing the contours of the experience of empathy. When Rønnenfelt sings about the subject’s “traits appearing changed” upon learning of their resonant secret, I don’t take that to imply judgment, but rather I consider it a reference to the nature of conceiving of another subject in a world of objects. The music and lyrics are imbued with a Husserlian understanding of memory, which catalogs the past as a means of passing through the opacity of experience into the frame of the other. Here, we come up on an understanding of personal history that is more complicated and more persuasive than that expressed by Heidegger in his Schwarze Hefte. Heidegger needs to invalidate and erase the history of an isolated other to preserve memory as a particular form of difference, but Rønnenfelt instrumentalizes memory to establish love and understanding, something that a good fascist might find unthinkable.

I turn briefly to one of Rønnenfelt’s inspirations, and another problematic and narcissistic record, but one that no one would ever accuse of fascist sympathies: Young Americans by David Bowie. In describing the genre of that album, Bowie appropriated the term “plastic soul” from the black music of the 1960s, which referred to poor white copies of black music. Bowie was a white Englishman trying to be a black bandleader, and at certain climactic moments, the Rønnenfelt of This World Is Not Enough is a Danish version of Bowie’s version of James Brown. The key point here is that Bowie failed in his approximation and had no hope of succeeding. The creative act achieved by Young Americans was situated in the uncanny, against the wall delineating the expressive gap between David Bowie and James Brown. This World Is Not Enough is similarly creative; Rønnenfelt is trying his hand at jazz, and occasionally belting out britpop hooks, but sings in a low, drunken snarl and slurs his words in the confusion of individual experience. “King Of Song” is still disturbing, but takes on a different meaning when detached from traditional notions of conquest and contextualized in line with the lyrical master, the supreme poet, or the bandleader. The anxiety expressed by Rønnenfelt is that of an encounter with a limited and unchanging world, and of the solipsistic reaching into it by the tendril of the creative will.

My account of this album is distanced and, in a way, insensitive, and I’m scared that I might do violence to conflicting accounts through the cut-and-dry normative determination implied in a rating. Not rating it doesn’t really accomplish anything, though, and ultimately every rating comes with an implied asterisk. I do think Rønnenfelt’s fascism fetish comes into play on this record, which is essentially a long-form self-reflection. Still, this self-reflection tries and fails to place the other in parenthesis and comes up against the radical inconsistency of the calculative logic of the Shoah. His violent longing for something more from experience ends with a woeful, empathic divorce from calculation, a kind of falling into the richness of the world. Geoffrey Hill’s “September Song,” an elegy for a 10-year-old boy killed in a concentration camp, offers a contradiction to which Rønnenfelt might concede:

“Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.

As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fire drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.”

Links: Marching Church - Sacred Bones/Posh Isolation

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