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Ice Palace’s Adam Sorensen is at home—and making the best music of his career

Adam Sorenson of Ice Palace, at home.

Adam Sorenson of Ice Palace, at home. Jerard Fagerberg

Adam Sorensen has struggled with the idea of home.

Sorensen founded Ice Palace in the early aughts, releasing the group’s landmark album Wonder Subtly Crushing Us in 2009 on Cloud Cult’s Earthology label. They toured the United States three times, playing over 100 shows, with Sorensen as the earnest, bleating voice at the front. Then, that same year, he uprooted his family and moved them to the Arizona desert.

Over the next nine years, Sorensen and his family would hop from Airbnb to Airbnb, stopping in Nevada, California, Montana, Michigan, and Nebraska. Ice Palace was just a memory from the beginning of that rambling trail. Sorensen wasn’t performing, his writing was infrequent, and even if he’d had a band, he never took root long enough to record. But some part of him always knew he’d be back in Minneapolis one day making music as Ice Palace again.

“It’s pretty silly, but to me, Ice Palace was never really completely done,” Sorensen says. “I was trying to figure out what kind of music I wanted to make next.”

Earlier this year, Sorensen, his wife, and his teenage daughter settled into a northeast Minneapolis stucco with a piano in the dining room. Sitting in his backyard with his nine-year-old shepherd Bella—a family Christmas present from that first year in Arizona—Sorensen seems to have reclaimed that idea of home. Behind him, the untended ivy grows over the fence.

Sorenson fights a sunbeam from his eyes and speaks with a warble. It’s been a half-generation since he’s done album press, so there’s cause to be nervous, but he couldn’t be more confident in the songs he’s preparing to release on October 12,

How I Came to Win the War, which releases Friday at the Korda Records showcase at the Hook & Ladder, is an act of resettling in every sense of the word. It’s a songbook of wandering triumph and a tribute to the mystery of fate. In 10 songs written across the Western continent, Sorensen comes to a vision of himself that he could not have anticipated nine years prior.

“We got the mixes, and I listened to it, that’s when my wife told me, ‘This is the music you’ve been wanting to make your whole life.’” Sorensen says. “I just felt like, ‘I’m so lucky.’ It’s just a dream.”

Before Sorensen moved away, Ice Palace was a downtempo rock band in the Wilco milieu. Sorensen attributes much of the band’s tendency for noise to the alt-rock sensibilities of erstwhile drummer Joe Gaskill, but Ice Palace’s new sound was crafted in quiet moments. Sorensen wanted to bring that quiet, that ambling reflectiveness, to How I Came to Win the War. To do so, he enlisted the help of Brian Tighe.

After years fronting Minneapolis indie-poppers the Hang Ups, Tighe’s most prominent current project is the delicate chamber pop band the Starfolk. But behind the scenes, he’s helped artists the likes of Jeremy Messersmith capture the essences they craved. Sorensen brought Tighe his demos, some dating back to clandestine Pro Tools sessions from 2010, and asked him to help turn it into an album.

“Brian was in a band called the Owls, and I liked how those records sounded and how they treated the instruments,” Sorensen says. “I’ve learned over time that my songs can sound many different ways. I just strum and sing, so they’re malleable. It was more about finding how I would like that to be.”

You can hear Tighe’s influence immediately on the song “Slow Motion Fall.” Originally a frothy cut from Wonder Subtly Crushing Us—the song that gave the album its title, in fact—Sorensen wanted to remake the song in his new baroque style. Re-recorded, “Slow Motion Fall” is candid and fearless. It neither hides nor distorts as Sorensen expresses awe of what he’s created.

But the genius stroke of How I Came to Win the War is the doing of neither Sorensen nor Tighe but rather singer Allison LaBonne. LaBonne, who is married to Tighe and also a member of the Starfolk, joined the recording sessions early on. Sorensen remembers sitting in their apartment when he heard LaBonne speak to him from behind a curtain in the kitchen. “I really like your songs,” she said without ever having laid eyes on her husband’s new prospect.

“Most songwriters don’t tell other songwriters their songs are good, they’re too closed off,” Sorensen says, remembering how LaBonne’s comment surprised him. “For her to just shout it out, I couldn’t believe how nice it was.” Eventually, Tighe suggested LaBonne join in on the recordings. After a few takes, it was clear that she brought exactly the tenderness Sorensen was seeking.

Where Sorensen’s voice is tenuous and slurred, LaBonne comes through brave and clear. Their symbiosis is most evident on album single “Gift of Love”: Sorensen leads with his tale of immutable, undying love, and below every note, there is LaBonne fueling the intimacy with her beautifully spun melody.

LaBonne gave life to Sorensen’s lyrics in more ways than one. Much of How I Came to Win the War is about distance. “Ain’t No Bottom Here” tells the story of a man tormented by visions of a faraway love—in museums, on motel walls, on restaurant menus. “I Am Waiting” feels like a plea to the night for the return of a lover, while “Mystery” is replete with the joy of a reunion. Each of these songs is sung from the perspective of a pair of characters whose longterm love keeps them apart. With Sorensen and LaBonne joining voices on these songs, the couple’s heartache is realized in tangible layers.

“The greatest mystery in life is love,” Sorensen says. “You don’t know why you just fell in love with a person so hard or how it disappears or how it stays or how it evolves. I pictured that couple together, after all that travel and all that distance, they’re sitting together like, ‘Why did we spend so much time apart?’”

It sounds like Sorensen’s asking himself the question. He doesn’t pretend to have an answer, but he’s never been closer to understanding.

Korda Records showcase, featuring Ice Palace
With: The Ocean Blue, the Hang Ups, the Starfolk, Jim Ruiz Set, Runes av Vaskeri, and DJ Jake Rudh
Where: The Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge
When: 7 p.m. Fri. Oct. 12
Tickets: $12 advance, $14 at the door; more info here