Self-titling a non-debut album can either suggest newfound confidence and panache or just a lack of ideas. Whether or not Ices truly counts as a self-titled record for Lia Ices is up for debate, yet it nevertheless falls into that second camp, leaving behind the piano pop of her solid sophomore LP, Grown Unknown, for glitchy production and world-beat electronica a la M.I.A.. It’s not a god-awful album, but it may be one of the laziest examples of cultural appropriation in music you’re likely to hear all year.
This is because it doesn’t do anything productive with its ethnic sources of inspiration. Unlike tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack, which, though a bit stiff and heavy-handed, used emulative Afropop arrangements to punctuate its lyrical narrative of oppression and tumult, Ices’ “stolen” sounds (courtesy, in part, of the usually reliable Clams Casino) function as nothing more than aesthetic wallpaper. Take opening track “Tell Me”, for example, which is ruined by a muddled loop of bhangra bongos that play throughout the entire song. Minus this misguided production touch, the track’s mix of acoustic guitar, tambourine shakes, and reverb-tinged vocals doesn’t stray too far from Grown Unknown’s torch-singer balladry. But what probably seemed like a cool flourish when conceptualizing the album nearly destroys everything in its path.
There are redeeming tracks on Ices, such as the Taken by Trees breeziness of “Sweet as Ice”, the quirky and beguiling “Higher”, and the straightforward pop momentum of “Magick”, but much of the record suffers from a bizarre clumsiness. If you thought the opening loop on “Tell Me” was strange, then the stutter-stepping beat on “Thousand Eyes” and the meandering album closer “Waves” will also confound. Things hit bottom, though, during the already undercooked, repetitive “Electric Arc”, where Ices moans through a heavy Auto-Tune effect to try to achieve some sort of mystical, Middle Eastern vibe. But the moment fails, serving instead as an unfortunate reminder of that sequence in Get Him to the Greek where Russell Brand sings about starving African children while prancing around the desert. At least that was satire. Ices, on the other hand, is a sincere record that was supposed to be a mission statement for its artist, as per its title. But instead, it’s an exercise in pointless cultural appropriation that just makes it unclear whether there is anything to Lia Ices at all.
Essential Tracks: “Sweet as Ice”, “Magick”, and “Higher”