Singer/songwriter Lia Ices' sophomore effort, 2011's Grown Unknown, was a gorgeous collection of subdued, ethereal textures and melancholic hooks. Guest vocals from Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon on one track didn't hurt when it came to drawing attention to this lesser-known artist, but her haunted blend of Grizzly Bear-esque chamber indie instrumentation and lushly sad songwriting stood on its own throughout the album. Three years and a relocation from Brooklyn to Northern California later, Ices returns with third album Ices, branching out into an entirely different direction from the ghostly sounds that came before it. With the exception of Ices' soaring vocals, often layered in bounding walls of harmony on top of each other, the album is almost completely incomparable to previous work, the soft-spoken acoustic arrangements left behind for multicolored samples, electronic beats, and interjections of synthesizers and washed-out guitars. This drastic change of sound comes across as reinvention, and in some cases it works well. The remarkably catchy "Higher" sounds like a hybrid of Panda Bear's sunny loops and a huskier version of Grimes' impressionistic electropop. The lazy lope of "Love Ices Over" experiments with some of the same architecture of vocal snippets that made Blue Hawaii's Untogether so interesting, lacing wordless coos over a gliding palette of Beach House-esque melodies. Most of this newfound experimentation with electronics feels cluttered and needless, with flashy production moves and synthetic effects getting in the way of the tunes more than they enhance. Production from notable chillwave/electronic mavens Benny Sagittarius and Clams Casino is crisp and at times enormous in its scope, but rarely feels like a good fit for Ices' compositions. The tropical psychedelia of "Sweet as Ice" feels confused, offering up what sounds like a partially written song held together by staggered samples of beachy guitar lines and puckish percussion. Grown Unknown wasn't especially full of memorable songs or pop hooks, but got by on the sheer density of feeling it presented and the heavy mood it helped cultivate. Ices is still dealing in atmosphere, but fails to connect as well, sounding more like the clumsy navigation of an artist struggling to explore new territory than any kind of implicit statement. Without ever recalling past successes, the album resonates most during moments like "Waves," the epic album-closer that sees Ices return to the dour, churning Kate Bush-isms of her past. Though the complete stylistic overhaul is admirable, the earliest results of Ices' experimentation with her new sound are pleasant at times but less than gripping overall.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas