Ice on the Dune

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Ice on the Dune
Studio album by Empire of the Sun
Released 14 June 2013 (2013-06-14)
Recorded November 2011–2013[1] at Linear Studios, Sydney;
Forgotten Valley Music Studios, Lower Mangrove;
"The Dungeon", Perth;
"The Muse", London;
"The Chateau", Coromandel Peninsula;
Downtown Music; Avatar Studios; Nick's 9th Street; Sear Sound, New York City;
Circle House, Miami;
Sage and Sound; Westlake Recording Studios; Pulse Studios; John Hill's studio, Los Angeles[2]
Genre Synthpop, electronic rock, dance, new wave
Length 42:52
Label Capitol
Producer Empire of the Sun, Peter Mayes, Donnie Sloan
Empire of the Sun chronology
Walking on a Dream
(2008)
Ice on the Dune
(2013)
Singles from Ice on the Dune
  1. "Alive"
    Released: 15 April 2013 (2013-04-15)
  2. "DNA"
    Released: 5 September 2013 (2013-09-05)
  3. "Celebrate"
    Released: 9 December 2013 (2013-12-09)

Ice on the Dune is the second studio album by Australian electronic music duo Empire of the Sun. It was released on 14 June 2013 by Capitol Records.

A trailer for the album debuted on 11 March 2013; it was produced by Kelvin Optical, a production division of Bad Robot, and was directed by J. D. Dillard. Along with this, the band released a fictional story related to the album which described a world looked over by an "Emperor" and a "Prophet".[3]

The lead single "Alive" premiered on 15 April 2013, and the album became available to pre-order on iTunes the same day.[4] The music video for the song, filmed in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah,[5] was directed by Charles Scott and Alex Theurer and also produced by Kelvin Optical.[6] Both "DNA" and "Celebrate" were serviced as follow-up singles and were also released as official remix singles on iTunes.

To promote the album, the duo played a series of US festival dates, and without Littlemore, Steele returned to Australia on 30 May to perform at the Sydney Opera House for Vivid Sydney.[7] The duo performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on 18 June, marking their first television appearance in the US.[6] The duo also performed at the Australian Splendour in the Grass festival in late July.[8]

The album's cover art, designed by Aaron Hayward and David Homer from Sydney studio Debaser, won an Artisan Award prior to the ARIA Music Awards of 2013, held on 1 December.[9] In addition, the album was nominated for Best Pop Release, Engineer of the Year (Peter Mayes) and Producer of the Year (Luke Steele, Nick Littlemore, Peter Mayes and Jonathan Sloan). Empire of the Sun were also nominated for Best Group for the album, but did not win.

Music[edit]

Songs[edit]

The album opens with the instrumental "Lux", which several critics likened to a Danny Elfman composition[10][11] with an orchestral and cinematic quality.[12][13] The song was composed by Henry Hey, whom Nick Littlemore met in New York City through producer Phil Ramone.[14] The second track, "DNA", was released as a promotional single around the time of the album's release[15] and contains disco hallmarks[10][13] as well as "breezy acoustic strumming and throbbing synths".[16] Its verses are driven by acoustic guitars and "melodic synth lines",[17] before bass-heavy chords are introduced into its chorus, according to MTV.[17] Critics termed lead single and third track "Alive", a synthpop-based song with elements of house[12] "catchy",[18] with Neil Ashman of Drowned in Sound labelling it "life-affirming electro-fuzz".[19] It was also stated to have a "schoolyard" quality.[13][16] The Guardian called both it and following song "Concert Pitch" "deliriously upbeat confections".[20] Sarah H. Grant of Consequence of Sound likened "Concert Pitch" to a "dance-floor tantrum inspired by the many Neil Tennant had himself",[16] and the song was also said to contain a "punchy disco pulse and wistfully breathy chorus".[19] In an interview with Moshcam, Steele said the song reminded him of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty; he composed the song in a Santa Monica hotel room after experiences while in New York:[2] "I had a real [...] breakdown [...] I was just so confused about [my] whole position in [...] my entertainment/musical life", pointing out this as the reason for the opening lyric "I don't wanna be so complicated".[21]

Title track "Ice on the Dune", a Eurodance-inspired[10] song with "wistful choruses",[22] was especially praised by PopMatters' Kevin Catchpole, who observed it as having "'80s" vocals and opined it was fitting as the title of the album.[12] Tim Sendra of Allmusic felt it had soft rock influences.[18] Following track "Awakening" was also said to contain a disco sound[12] and a "Donna Summer thump",[10] while "I'll Be Around", a midtempo ballad, was declared "ethereal"[22] and "reverb-swamped".[13] Steele was praised for his "delicate vocal approach" to the song, which Ashman judged was "oddly redolent of Mew".[19] The primarily instrumental "Old Flavours" was pointed out for its tropical infusions[23] and disco influences.[18] "Celebrate" is an electronic rock song set to a dance beat with robotic Auto-Tuned vocals,[13][22][23] which was described as a "throbbing Madonna-inspired club jam".[18] Subsequent cut "Surround Sound" was called "incredibly bouncy and fun",[18] and was especially marked for its lyrical content,[16] containing such lines as "Let's push through four dimensions/'Til our brains turn to jelly" and "Meditate with no thinking/Eternally".[10] Both "Celebrate" and "Disarm" were singled out as being "EDM at its warmest-sounding".[20]

Multiple album reviews noted several songs' similarity to Daft Punk tracks, especially "Awakening" and "Celebrate"[18] (the aforementioned duo's work on 2005 album Human After All was also noted upon release as being influenced by rock). Several were noted to have sounds reminiscent of dubstep according to NME, notably "Concert Pitch", "Awakening" and "Old Flavours";[13] Grant of Consequence of Sound felt much of the album is stylistically rooted in new wave.[16] Another comparison made was album closer "Keep a Watch", which features a gospel choir,[23] to David Bowie,[24] often in a negative context.[25] Allmusic's Tim Sendra proclaimed it an "OTT ballad that ends the album in an overwrought splash of powdery tears", and Ashman also noted it to be a "poised piano ballad" which lapsed into "overblown histrionics".[18]

Themes[edit]

"The centre and the small hours in between the highlight and the Bacchanalian party of 'Alive' and 'DNA' and all these very out-there, almost camp moments, then to that quiet moment within the centre, and then we kind of unroll out of there to the dawn of the new day, to 'Keep a Watch'. So I feel that the record, it does have an evening, or an arc journey to it."

— Littlemore, on the flow and concept of the album[26]

Nick Littlemore remarked that the writing of the album was influenced by frequent touring and travel and the "tyranny of distance",[14] primarily from family. In the same interview, he spoke of "I'll Be Around" as "a nice message to each other—to Luke and I, and then to our loved ones and our families and to the audience, that 'we will be around'".[14]

Speaking with Steele to MetroLyrics, Littlemore again reinforced the impact of distance, stating "When we came back together, initially it felt like a secret affair and it was great, but then as you run deeper into that relationship again, there were things that we communicated to each other."[26] Elaborating, he said "We [communicate through] the nature of song. [...] I think there was a large part of what we were writing about was distance and longing, and I guess some way of kind of sending out a message to the wider world, like that there is a force field that protects all of us and no matter where you are, if you feel for someone and they're in your heart, then you're always with them in some sense."[26]

Expanding on the origin of the album's title to Pigeons and Planes, Steele spoke of it as being "like an invisible hummingbird with that lyric and melody came in. Ice on the dune. And no one really knew what it meant. It was like ice on the dune and while we were shooting the first video in that canyon, there were these ginormous dunes with slithers of ice. It was serendipitous like ice on the dune."[2] Despite being unable to answer what he wanted listeners to take away from the record, Steele did comment that "the beauty of it is what people get from it [...] People just need to have an open mind when they listen to music."[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 68/100[27]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[18]
Consequence of Sound 3/5 stars[16]
Drowned in Sound 6/10[19]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[20]
The Independent 4/5 stars[28]
NME 4/10[13]
Pitchfork Media 5.6/10[10]
PopMatters 8/10[12]
Rolling Stone 2.5/5 stars[25]
Slant Magazine 3.5/5 stars[29]

Ice on the Dune received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 68 based on 20 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[27]

Tim Sendra of Allmusic said the album "ends up being everything a good modern pop record should be, and then some. The songs have super-sharp choruses, incessantly listenable arrangements built on acoustic, electric, and programmed instruments, and icy-cold but immediate beats", judging that the duo have "skill at crafting perfect pop, [...] depth in their songs" and concluding, "Modern pop doesn't get any better than this."[18]

Writing for NME and giving the album a rating of 4 out of 10, Mark Beaumont commented that after the opening track, Ice on the Dune consists of "11 repetitive bursts of whoomp-laden chart pop". However, while he noted that the album's "saving grace is Steele's airy falsetto", he ultimately dismissed Steele's contributions, writing "In trying to reinvent himself as a Bowie-esque future-glam Pop Star, he's been sucked into the sub-Gaga blandness of mainstream music, his aesthetic so costume-party comical it's an unknowing pastiche that takes itself far more seriously than even he seems to realise."[13]

Drowned in Sound's Neil Ashman rated the album 6/10 and remarked that the "duo [are] seemingly too content to stick to their template", comparing it to The Sleepy Jackson's Personality "in as much as the next song sounds much like the last one". Ashman opined that "The biggest disappointment however is the lack of any standout tracks like previous single 'Walking On a Dream' and 'We Are the People'" and "Perhaps with a little more nuance they can exploit the potential of their partnership to be one of the most intriguing electro-pop duos around - but on Ice on the Dune that potential remains unrealised."[19]

In a 4/5 star review, The Independent called the record "gorgeous", and a "seamless suite of elegiac synthpop, with fairydust-flecked melodies, a perpetually peaking bass end, chord changes that reach into your heart, and fantasising falsetto vocals".[28]

Reserving praise for the title track (calling it a "giddy, effusive melding of all the best from so many disparate sounds") and "I'll Be Around" (for its "softly-sung vocals and evocative sounds"), Kevin Catchpole of PopMatters awarded the album 8/10, claiming it surpasses the duo's debut and summed up that "Empire of the Sun has delivered a well-blended mix of disco, electropop and just plain fun that evokes the greats without copying them outright. That's not an easy trick to pull off, but they do it well and continue towards a bright future with this release."[12]

Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone was unimpressed, giving the album just 2.5/5 stars and judging, "the vintage-Daft Punk cheese platter 'Celebrate' and album-ending­ Bowie joke 'Keep a Watch' are foamy fun, but too often Ice on the Dune just feels like a lobotomy on the dance floor."[25]

Track listing[edit]

All songs were written by Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore, with additional writers listed below.

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Lux"   Henry Hey 1:25
2. "DNA"   John Hill, Peter Mayes, Donnie Sloan 3:54
3. "Alive"   Mayes, Sloan, Steven Bach 3:24
4. "Concert Pitch"   Mayes, Sloan 3:40
5. "Ice on the Dune"   Mayes, Sloan 3:25
6. "Awakening"   Mayes, Sloan 3:45
7. "I'll Be Around"   Mayes, Sloan 4:30
8. "Old Flavours"   Mayes, Sloan 3:54
9. "Celebrate"   Mayes, Sloan, Daniel Johns, Scott Horscroft 3:19
10. "Surround Sound"   Mayes, Sloan 3:17
11. "Disarm"   Sloan 3:51
12. "Keep a Watch"   Mayes, Bach 4:28
Total length:
42:52

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Ice on the Dune.[31]

Charts[edit]

Chart (2013) Peak
position
Australian Albums Chart[32] 3
Austrian Albums Chart[33] 37
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[34] 40
Belgian Albums Chart (Wallonia)[35] 35
Dutch Albums Chart[36] 53
French Albums Chart[37] 26
German Albums Chart[38] 34
Greek Albums Chart[39] 32
Irish Albums Chart[40] 26
Italian Albums Chart[41] 41
New Zealand Albums Chart[42] 16
Norwegian Albums Chart[43] 25
Scottish Albums Chart[44] 31
Swiss Albums Chart[45] 7
UK Albums Chart[46] 24
US Billboard 200[47] 20
US Dance/Electronic Albums[48] 2

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label
Australia[49] 14 June 2013 Capitol Records
United States[6] 18 June 2013 Astralwerks
Germany[50] 21 June 2013 Universal Music
Netherlands[51] EMI
Ireland[52] Virgin Records
United Kingdom[53] 24 June 2013
France[54] EMI
Italy[55] 25 June 2013
Poland[56] Universal Music
Sweden[57] 26 June 2013

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Cashmere, Paul (12 March 2013). "Empire Of The Sun Return With Ice On The Dune". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "'ALIVE' has arrived! Pre-order 'Ice On The Dune'...". Empire of the Sun official website. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
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