I’m going to be honest, I almost never get through instrumental albums. As a singer, I tend to let the vocals guide me through the aural journey of most albums, and struggle to stay engaged in instrumental tracks (it took me a long time to “get” jazz). So listening to Iced Ink’s new EP Willie Nelson Prince, I was kind of going in blind. Luckily, the gently warbling stops and starts of the opening track Craws grabbed me immediately, and the tight guitar lines held my attention the way a charismatic lead singer might do on a more traditional album. The EP gets progressively heavier as it goes along (“progressive” being a key word in the band’s experimental prog-rock style), moving into the shredding overlaps of Green Machine, which not only reminds me of my favorite smoothie, but the actual feeling of getting thrown in a blender with its resounding clicks, clacks and swirls of sound.
In Jonathan Lethem’s book “Motherless Brooklyn”, the protagonist describes Prince as a musical representation of Tourettes’ syndrome. While I can’t find too many similarities to the artist formerly-and-currently-known-as-Prince in Iced Ink’s EP, I do hear some of the structural elements: the sporadic hits, shrieks, and shredding sections the artist is best known for. Willie Nelson is a different story – I’m not sure what the musical relationship is there, but he is certainly a worthy rock icon to pay homage to, most recently in the news for his numerous (read: unnecessary) marijuana arrests. Perhaps this renegade attitude is what drives the twangy, ambling motion of guitars throughout the album. New Cowboy Shirt plays like a saloon shootout in an old Western, with a languorous solo quickly heading into a heavier hitting guitar duel of guitars for the finale.
Willie Nelson Prince is not for everyone – the chaotic opening to Ruth and Johnny will not be the average indie-loving Sufjan Stevens fan’s cup of tea, and isn’t going to win Battle of the Gentle Bands. But each chaotic moment leads to a solid groove in every song, and the grooves melt into each other with an artistry that lends itself to a new feel every ten seconds. Guitarists will be impressed by the bands’ math-rock inspired solid transitions and hits sections, and laypersons and singers like me will be challenged to find a melody to cling to – even if it’s not one we can hum along to.
You can get Iced Ink’s music (or pick up their custom stick booklet) on Bandcamp.