What’s the likelihood that two employees of the Chicago Public Library end up to be indie rock heroes? Dave Fischoff made his `Postal Service’-like entry late last year with The Crawl, and now Craig Klein has reformed his band, The Race, albeit with a different cast. Ice Station is the band’s fifth full-length release, but the first to explore Klein’s singular laser-like vision of pop meets epic soundscape. The Race has been compared to Radiohead before, they’re no strangers to the namedropping, but never before has the Race really lived up to that grandiose statement. Ice Station, at its most profound, is a meditation on Siberia, Russian literature and the cold expanses of the taigas and tundra of Northern Russia. On the surface, Ice Station is an expansive rock record of the highest degree. It soars with emotional vocals, drips with epic guitar majesty and manages to remain both compelling and cool at the same time. In other words, it’s a record that both you and your girlfriend can enjoy.
If you are like me, you were disappointed with recent albums by Snow Patrol, Coldplay and the Shins. Where these bands fell short, The Race bounds forward. Leader and songwriter Craig Klein, really the only band member left after a tumultuous split in 2004, tried to submit a song for consideration on the band’s previous album, If You Can. The rest of the members rejected that song, “The Shortest Way to China,” but it haunted him in the intervening years. “The Shortest Way to China” ends up as one of the touchstones of Ice Station, a song that’s part Keane without being operatic and part Killers without being obnoxious. The album’s title track is Joy Division meets the B-52’s without being too dour or over-the-top. “Odessa” is as hypnotic as any track from the Cure’s early trilogy of Faith, Seventeen Seconds and Pornography. The overlapping vocals toward the end of the track are what set this song apart and into a realm of its own, however.
“Evil Love” channels Love and Rockets, Psychedelic Furs and any other band that was played during an ’80s teen movie when the main character was suicidal. “Walls” continues the seemingly uninterrupted string of quality tracks, keeping up the album’s wonderful habits of driving yet not overwhelming guitars and magical overlapping vocals. Symmetrical to “Evil Love” in the tracklisting is “Evil Dove,” finding Klein singing “spread your wings” again and again over steady drumbeats and dual guitars. The result is again hypnotic, but also somehow inspirational without being cheesy. Klein’s chanted “halfway” in “Crack Goes the Lake” reminds me of some kind of invisible and unspoken bridge between the Fixx and Interpol. “Standby” shares some similarity to “Evil Love” in its loping darkness. Since the album is rooted in the themes of Siberia, one can picture oneself shivering to death in absolute darkness to this song. “Lara’s Theme” it may not be, but it is one hell of a moody pop song. It’s as if the Race has redefined gothic to include white Russian steppes, parkas and dogsleds rather than Southern creepers, fishnets and coffins. “Standby” is one of those songs that hovers in your brain long after the last note has played. Like the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done,” it is one of those songs that could be stretched into infinity as an infectious closing number.
The first time I saw that there was a band named `The Race,’ it reminded me of a hilariously politically incorrect joke by comedian Zach Galifianakis. He says, “that show, The Amazing Race, is that about white people?” I’m sure this wasn’t the purpose of the naming of Craig Klein’s band, but it’s so uncomfortably funny, I just had to mention it. It’s an odd name, no? The songs on Ice Station aren’t in any kind of hurry to get anywhere other than in your brain, and even then, they’re going to be stuck there for a while. Maybe they’re named after Race Bannon, Jonny Quest’s bodyguard (spoofed so nicely by Samson on Cartoon Network’s The Venture Brothers), who you could picture traveling with the Quests on a Siberian trek. Or, maybe it’s just a cool sounding name. Either way, Ice Station is a welcome return from a band that temporarily lost its way, and luckily found it in Northeast Asia.
Alphaville- Forever Young