“Chrome and the Ice Queen was birthed out of a sudden inclination to write pop music, perhaps the result of studying more traditional forms of composition. Particularly, the aim was to fully craft just one song… And to post it on the internet without disclosing any information about the personnel involved. To see what the hell would happen.”
This cryptic message mysteriously found its way into the Ampeater submissions box a few weeks ago and whoever sent it delivered exactly as promised. The submission form was accompanied by precisely one fully-crafted pop song (A-Side “Sway” ) as well as a B-Side which in comparison seems superfluous, its primary function to fulfill the two-track requirement for an Ampeater Review. Apart from a few words about each track, we didn’t receive much else. Conspicuously absent were the fun goodies (novella length biographies, spiffy press kits, etc) we often receive from artists itching for a write-up. We didn’t even receive an email address or phone number at which to press the band for more information.
Whenever I hear a new band I’m struck by an unshakable urge to learn everything there is to learn about it. With Chrome and the Ice Queen my efforts didn’t get me very far. Intrigued by the anonymity, I decided to prod my most reliable friend for additional info. Unfortunately, even she wasn’t able to assist me much. I learned that Chrome and the Ice Queen is a boy/girl duo which barely qualifies as news in light of the name and general aesthetic. Faces were blurred or obstructed in all the press photos I was able to uncover. I discovered that the group is from Toronto and that they’ve played a few shows recently which is a decent lead but, regrettably, one I’m completely unable to follow up on since I don’t live anywhere near Toronto. Discouraged, I quickly abandoned the search. Besides, I consoled myself, even if I could unravel their true identities it would be quite tactless for me to do so publicly when they’ve clearly gone through such pains to hide them.
I thus found myself confronted by the unique challenge of writing up a band that, on paper, doesn’t exist. To understand the implications of this challenge, you must keep in mind that, by conservative estimations, the average music review is comprised of nearly fifty percent biographical filler. Philosophical rhetoric vaguely related to the aforementioned biographical filler generally makes up another quarter and so, in the best of cases, perhaps the remaining quarter will pertain directly to the music. So what was I to write about? To scrap the whole review would have been the safest choice and I considered doing so for a brief moment. I wouldn’t even have needed to go through the awkward formality of explaining to the artist why he or she isn’t the right fit for Ampeater. I didn’t have any way to make contact. Oh, it would have been so easy not to write this review! Consequently, the mere fact that it exists should be taken as a powerful testament to the music. The enigmatic artist’s solitary pop masterpiece was so captivating that I felt compelled to press forth and I’m glad I did because eventually I discovered something-even more alluring than a strong bio is a complete lack thereof.
The idea of forming a faceless and storyless band in an industry where image counts for so much seems, to say the least, counterproductive. Granted there are a handful of bands that have managed to make a splash in spite of-perhaps as a result of-embracing what I will henceforth refer to as the hidden identity gimmick. Gorillaz succeeded gloriously but probably couldn’t have done so without the economic and promotional support of a major label and extensive industry connections. The faá§ade didn’t last long either, and Albarn’s efforts to hide his identity were probably doomed to begin with. How long did he seriously expect before the world noticed he sounded suspiciously like the guy from Blur and connected the dots? Daft Punk also flirted with the hidden identity gimmick, revealing their names but hiding their faces behind robotic masks. Incidentally, such masks proved to create a more memorable image than their faces ever could have. Both examples are clearly exceptions to the rule and for a band to hide its identity is akin to playing Russian Roulette on a revolver loaded with 5 bullets. In other words, it’s practically suicide. Does Chrome and the Ice Queen have what it takes to make it big against improbable odds?
My verdict is yes-that is, provided commercial success is something they care about. The litmus test is whether the impenetrable enigma of the hidden identity gimmick jives with the image evoked by the music. In this case it really does. It’s time check out A-Side “Sway” if you haven’t already done so. It’s not the sort of song you’ll want to sing along with but it’s a great song to get hopelessly lost in. The overall effect is reminiscent of Portishead. It’s dark, mysterious, and treads the improbably thin line between fiery passion and ice-cold indifference. The band describes it as “the story of a seductive murderess” which rings true, even if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics. The Ice Queen projects the image of a bona fide femme fatal and her chillingly sexy voice and nonchalant delivery are considerably more alluring because of her inaccessibility. We face a complete dearth of photos to salivate over but I suspect the vast majority of our readership-regardless of gender or sexual preference-would like to go to bed with her. No real beauty can rival imagined beauty. Meanwhile, Chrome brews up a deep trip-hop groove that bathes the vocals in just the right ambiance. It’s slow, sensual, and sinister. The production value is spot on and unexpected horn riffs turn an otherwise bread n butter arrangement into something a bit more memorable.
To a certain degree B-Side “Endings” is filler material but what else could one expect from an artist who has made the creation of precisely one fully crafted pop song the explicit goal? Chrome and the Ice Queen enlightens us by explaining that it was created using cut-up (physically) cassette tapes. As one might reasonably assume from this description, the composition sounds more like a final project for an electronic music course than anything you’re apt to hear at a club or on the radio. It clearly wasn’t designed to be a hit but the concept is sound. Tune in, especially if you enjoy ambient music.
The more I dwell on it, the more it seems likely that Chrome and The Ice Queen are established musicians playing a joke on the world. Why else would they be so eager to reveal their identities? Yet the possibility remains that they’re simply unknowns with an astonishing understanding of the art of suspense. Regardless, I hope that the pair will be motivated by the reception of “Sway” to release a follow-up single. They certainly have the right sound and image to become a cult phenomenon with significant mainstream crossover appeal. I see vast room for growth should they wish to perpetuate the hidden identity gimmick. The enigmatic personas of Chrome and The Ice Queen could be flushed out considerably and perhaps even developed into full characters. Unless I’m missing the point. Having fulfilled their goal of creating just one fully crafted pop song, perhaps they’ll keep quiet. It all comes down to their motives, which are difficult to decipher as we know so little about them. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re trying to tell us something through their anonymity. The lesson may be that we should pay more attention to the music itself and less attention to whoever’s making it. Perhaps it’s better just to listen.
I’ve been unable to contact Chrome and the Ice Queen to inform them that their review has been posted but I suspect that those involved will find it and have a good laugh at us all.