One of the privileges of covering music for this publication has been running across some of the weirder band names (and weirder live shows) that come through town, typically at the Nick, the Bottletree and smaller venues like the Forge and the Firehouse. Sometimes they’re flamboyantly high-concept, like Hunx and His Punx; sometimes far-out, like Spirits and the Melchizedek Children; and sometimes elaborate and baroque in a way that only metal bands can be, like the classic Nick bill of Eros and the Eschaton, the Decadence, and Throng of Shoggoths.
(You can only imagine my disappointment at finding out that Güngör, who played Iron City a while back, were a Christian folk-rock group instead of a doom metal collective. Missed opportunities!)
Ice Balloons may not have an especially weird name, but they’ve got more than enough giddy strangeness to fit in with this august company. The Brooklyn band, featuring Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, will play the Bottletree on March 1, and will likely feature a lead singer in a fly mask.
That’s just one element of the band’s much-touted live show, which has scored positive reviews from The New York Observer and the Village Voice. In addition to their insectoid frontman, the band’s also known for freaky-deeky visual projections and piña colada-scented smoke, creating an atmosphere that’s fun, campy and mildly unsettling. It’s an aesthetic that certainly fits in with the oddball, psychedelic garage rock they play.
Ice Balloons isn’t exactly a side project for Kyp Malone – by all accounts, he’s a role player in the band – but TV on the Radio nevertheless provides an excellent contrast for this new experiment. More than any other band today, TV on the Radio set poetry to music. They can do that with funky immediacy, with arty anxiety or with elegiac warmth, but whether they run cold or hot, TV on the Radio are always deeply ambitious.
Ice Balloons, for better or worse, could not be more different. In a nutshell, their music sounds like the 13th Floor Elevators in the throes of a particularly gnarly acid trip. Sometimes, that can lead to moments of euphoria and goofy fun – emphasis on goofy, considering that the band’s 2013 EP features a cobra playing a saxophone on the cover – as on “Hole in the Ground” and “Bridge of Total Freedom.” But even on the more upbeat and cohesive tracks, these songs feature wave after wave of distortion-drenched sludge and synth jitters.
On the darker tracks, that style can be downright ominous. Tracks like “Child Soldiers” and “Night Slave” almost sound like Black Sabbath at times, and they adeptly conjure a similarly foreboding atmosphere. The cacophony of “Child Soldiers” gets so surreal that it sounds like it could replace “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” at the nightmarish climax of Manhunter.
That backwoods sound gets at another element of Ice Balloons’ appeal, which is its unexpected Southern-ness for a band that you’d typically find playing Brooklyn clubs. Their EP’s cinematic atmospheres seem to draw a lot of inspiration from the pulpy luridness of Southern Gothic fiction. When Ice Balloons are going for silliness, they sound like a hopped-up cadre of hippies playing a West Texas biker bar. When they’re going for darkness, they sound like a Bayou exorcism gone terribly wrong, or like something that should accompany a True Detective tracking shot packed to the gills with dread.
Whether they’re delivering euphoric walls of sound or spooky freakouts, Ice Balloons are quite effective at establishing a mood. There’s a rawness in their music that undercuts the goofiness – or a winking sensibility that undercuts the eeriness, if you prefer – that would feel just as at home in a David Lynch movie as they will next to the Bottletree’s creepy clown masks. If you’re a fan of psychedelic strangeness and heavy rock ‘n roll, this is not a show to be missed.
Ice Balloons and Droves will play the Bottletree on Saturday, March 1. The show begins at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10. For more information, call (205) 533-5288.