Most of the ten songs off “Bleeding” initially posture like sleepy, slow burners, but this is only a ruse. In a highly deliberate manner, they unwind, accrue layered momentum, and emerge as guitar thrillers. This confident measure of patience would translate into a risky gambit for any band, but especially for ICU, a local Wisconsin band with no other releases under their collective belt. The strategy consistently delivers due to sterling execution, but like the structure of its songs, the high appeal of “Bleeding” comes into focus gradually but insistently.
ICU is fronted by La Crosse jack-of-all-trades Matt Monsoor and further manned by various members of standout Madison bands the Czarbles and Houses in Motion (Talking Heads mimickers and the world’s finest cover outfit). This quintet abides by typical guitar-rock convention in their arrangements but resists the derivative impulse that so often plagues aspiring newcomers. Even successful rock acts could learn a lesson in patience from “Bleeding.”
For instance, the superior “How It Goes” seems poised to just idly drift along, anchored only by temperamental guitar jabs. But it progressively develops a thick buzz and crescendos with a piercing guitar coda. This successful template also applies to the opening two numbers, “Sam’s Hill” and “Lullaby,” even while allowing for a variance in moods (the former being tense and evocative, the latter more inviting). However, “Bleeding’s” most accessible moment arrives with the honky-tonk pop of “Bean Burrito.” It still boasts a steady buildup but its twitchy, beer-soaked riffs set it apart from the rest.
Monsoor’s lyricism often is difficult to penetrate. Vague, anonymous, and spare, he appears to be grappling over life’s conundrums with the aid of friendly American Spirits. But that’s not the point. His delivery is absolutely tantalizing and ends up the most distinct element of “Bleeding.” Full of raspy silk and smoked-out sexuality, Monsoor’s vocals almost sound like the meeting point of Marc Bolan (of T. Rex) and Jeremy Enigk but with deeper, gritty tones. He can be emotive, like on the quiet closer “Master Key,” or more mysterious (see “Go”).
One note of caution: prepare to feel slightly robbed after listening to “1218.” What it could have blossomed into had it not been cut off! It glows with shadowy shifts, wedding straight strumming with a ghostly backdrop of shimmering synth ripples, but then it abruptly ends. Oh well. “Bleeding” is too consistent of a collection to be marred by one undercooked entry. Let it work on you and you’ll discover as much.
Mark Sauer - guitar
Jeff Sauer - drums
Matt Skemp - bass
Andy Fitzpatrick - guitar,synth
Matt Monsoor - guitar, vocals, piano, accordion
Limited copies of discs
All cd jackets hand screen printed and individually numbered
with corresponding numbered disc.