Twin Cites music fans can thank the surprisingly fortuitous combination of a willingness to barter and a flooded basement for one of the strongest local albums of the year. When Cloud Cult head Craig Minowa's home studio in Hinckley experienced water damage, contractor Adam Sorenson came to the rescue—then set about making a record. "I basically sheet-rocked Craig's basement in exchange for the hours to make this record," explains Sorenson of the birthing process behind his band Ice Palace's sophomore release, Wonder Subtly Crushing Us, out this week on Cloud Cult's own Earthology Records imprint.
Wonder Subtly Crushing Us expands on the darkly melodic delights of Ice Palace's Darren Jackson-produced 2007 debut, Bright Leaf Left. Sorenson is still adept at mid-tempo macabre numbers ("Just Wait") and bracing imagery ("I woke up on a phonebook pillow/Never felt so alone"), but he's simultaneously dipping into brighter melodic waters, at times even suffusing the proceedings with sunny horns as on "Thoughts/Facts."
Stepping into the light didn't come easily. "Eight out of ten songs I write are dark and sad, those come pretty effortlessly," admits Sorenson via telephone in the midst of a national tour supporting Cloud Cult. "I'm pleasantly surprised when I'm playing around and come across something with an upbeat feel to it. Ten years ago I would have thought, 'Oh, you're never going to be a guy who writes pop songs.' It's nice not to always be the dark and brooding band. I try to make sure our music runs the gamut."
Helping Sorenson do the running is an entirely different cast of characters—most notably guitarist Jacob Grun of Me and My Arrow and keyboardist/vocalist Amy Hager—from the crew behind Ice Palace's first record. "It all happened in stages," explains Sorenson of the group's extreme makeover. "There wasn't a big band fight where everybody left at once. There was some Fleetwood Mac stuff going on where members had been dating and split up, so that didn't ultimately work out well. It's been the same core now for about a year and a half, though. I really like this band, I don't view it as Adam Sorenson is Ice Palace; no one's a hired gun and we're all equally invested."
Repeated listens to Wonder Subtly Crushing Us bear Sorenson out. The 10 tracks capture a band clicking on all cylinders and in full command of its powers, with a soaring, honeyed harmony or triumphant trumpet fill just as likely to command center stage as Sorenson's sonorous quaver—which sounds at points like a more sedate Kurt Cobain in its strained beauty.
After spending his 20s slugging it out in the local scene trenches with a succession of bands that never made it beyond the bottom rungs of the rock 'n' roll ladder, Sorenson's more than appreciative of the good things happening in Ice Palace's world.
"I'm just really happy," says an audibly enthused Sorenson. "Opening for Cloud Cult, we've had kids right up in front of the stage every night with amazing energy and they seem to be into it. A lot of people have helped me stick with it. I've never thought of music as a career, and if I did I probably wouldn't have stuck around this long. I have boxes of past albums I did with other bands, literally hundreds of CDs, and before going out on this tour I was considering bringing them for the merchandise table. Then I thought again and cringed when I realized I really didn't want anyone to hear them. At the time you're doing something and thinking, 'Gosh we've really got something going.' Then you look back and think, 'Man, we had one good song!' I'm kind of a slow learner and it's taken me a while but I'm happy with where the music is now."
ICE PALACE play a CD-release show with Dark Dark Dark, Caroline Smith & the Good Night Sleeps, and To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie on THURSDAY, APRIL 23, at the VARSITY THEATER; 612.604.0222