Telling It Like It Is is the second album from Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s Marching Church project, and both have come in the two years since his main band Iceage’s last album. With the previous album, The World Is Not Enough, Rønnenfelt seemed to be blowing off steam, writing some songs with a wider array of topics and recording them in a much looser and more ramshackle way; it made perfect sense to call it a ‘side project’. Now that Marching Church are releasing another album, and Iceage seems to be on the backburner, it would be reductive to use that term anymore. The music within Telling It Like It Is would back that up, Rønnenfelt having enlisted even more musicians from the Danish alternative scene to bolster the album musically, and the songs are much more well-honed and produced. For those waiting for a follow up to Plowing Into The Field Of Love, this album will surely sate you for a good while.

Even though the band has now expanded to include over a half-dozen supporting players adding instruments like flute, electric viola, saxophone and strings, this is undoubtedly Rønnenfelt’s album, and from beginning to end he stands and sings from centre stage, commanding the crescendos. From the beginning track ‘Let It Come Down’ we find Rønnenfelt roused by nature and praying for rain (“Will our skin ever be dry from the blood of the still-born / Will the rain wash our mind and drip from our thorns”). His penchant for dark imagery and the fire of the human mind are the driving forces behind the album, and his supporting band are with him throughout, helping him to eke out every last drop of blood and sweat from his passionate reveries. This often leads to manic excitement, like ‘Up For Days’, where he repeats the titular phrase going from delirium to exhaustion and back again, as if he is really sleep deprived – and the guitars cut and glide to animate this stop-and-go of energy. Following this is ‘Heart Of Life’, another song intoxicating in its unhinged adoration for life. Buoyed by swinging bar-room rock, Rønnenfelt takes up the role of a drunk vagrant, begging to be lifted up by his brothers and kissed by his sisters, before triumphantly announcing “I stand like a reject at the heart of life.” In fact, Telling It Like It Is constantly returns to the idea of life on the streets, even to the point of inhabiting a bird viewing humans’ apathy on the seething ‘Inner City Pigeon’.

Tipsy, rollicking guitar music is the way that many of these songs are carried off – not too distant from Iceage’s sound – but some of the album’s most impressive moments are the more sultry, moonlit tracks. ‘Lion’s Den’ sits at the heart of the album and is the clear centrepiece; all dusky and smoke-filled ambiance, you can imagine a low-lit bar with human faces laughing like jackals all around. Through the den’s haze you see Rønnenfelt beckoning you to “come on in,” despite confessing “they never cared too much for you, they never took great care of you.” The synth and melodica used on the moody ‘Achilles’ Heel’ describe a topsy-turvy emotional state as our singer sits in a taxi cab quietly lusting after someone whom his “hands are begging to grab.”

Telling It Like It Is finishes with ‘Calenture’, which hews close to a folkier version of the cowboy-punk Iceage perfected on their last album. Here twanging guitars and screeching harmonica form the backdrop to Rønnenfelt’s description of a battalion of men slowly dying of starvation and heatsickness. It’s quite an offshoot in terms of lyrical topic, but it comes back to the same thing that charges this album: the lust for life and the challenge to remain breathing. This is the lifeblood of this album, and throughout you can’t help but feel the constant swing of life’s moods, channeling through Elias Bender Rønnenfelt to become a drug that’s uplifting, unifying and ultimately deeply entertaining.