IDLES – Ultra Mono Album Review

Partisan Records – 2020

The Bristol boys are back. Back with fury and love in their heart. Over the last 5 years or so IDLES have been leading a revolution of sorts. Yes there’s always been political music in punk and indie, but IDLES seem to have brought this music to the masses. They may not be topping charts any time soon but the legion of progressive and like mined individuals that have become devoted to the proclamations of a group born out of anger has been a joy to watch. And that’s what IDLES are all about, Joy. They even named their last album after it incase you missed that one. Their messages of community and inclusivity seem to have brought together a group of people who have also become disheveled in the way the world is being run. Together they are angry, but face this anger in the best way possible, laughing and dancing in the face of it. The AF Gang Facebook group is not only a place for fans of the band to share their collect love of the band, but also a place for people to meet other likeminded individuals and just share daily experiences and interests. The band pays homage to this in “The Lover” as they sing “There’s a feeling washing over me, It was built by you and me, Our unity makes me feel so free to say… “Fuck you, I’m a lover”. There’s more than just a band here, there’s a collective force.

One of the main attractions of IDLES is there confidence to “Say what they mean, do what they love, and fucking send it” as lead singer Joe Talbot states on “Grounds”. Politics has always been at the core of IDLES sound and messages, and their passion for more unified world. They’ve come under criticism before for ‘class appropriation’ but in the end we’re all on the same side. Their messages might not be the most controversial statements ever made in music but are a driving force in the acclaim they get. “Over-working, working nurses and teachers, While you preach austerity is… Carcinogenic” declares the band on the chorus of “Carcinogenic” a clear dig at the failing Tory government that has lead a nation into chaos, to IDLES their polices are cancerous. These aren’t just throwaway passages though as each lyric is sung with fiery intent, Talbots signature teeth grit pose is an image as clear as daylight. But through all the moody chords and imposing movements they still know how to snark at the privileged in a comical fashion. The frantic “Model Village” analyses the classic English country lifestyle for what it really is, a plastic façade. “He’s “not a racist but” in the village, Gotta drive half-cut in the village, Model low crime rate in the village, Model race, model hate, model village”. The main comedy coming from Talbot’s sarcastic upbeat delivery during the verses, juxtaposed with the fury of the chorus “I beg your pardon? I don’t care about your rose garden!”. And lead single Mr. Motivator” that sounds almost like a parody of an IDLES song, with its absurd cliché lyrics and bouncing riff. “Like Flava Flav in the club riding on the back of John Wayne, Like David Attenborough clubbing seal clubbers with LeBron James”. But engrained at the heart of this song is the notion of rising up, laughing in the face of absurdity and dancing. Joy as an act of resistance.

Sonically this album hits like a meteor. It’s a behemoth that will kick your teeth in if you get in its way. But it’s also the most refined IDLES have ever sounded. Straight from the starting line “War” is brutally chaotic, the riff is charged with pure cathartic energy and the drum break leading into the second chorus is one of the tightest, hardest hitting drum solos in modern punk. “THIS MEANS WAR” screams Talbot over an orchestra of frantic guitars and chugging bass lines. “Reigns” also features one of the, and excuse my lack of a better word here, PHATTEST bass lines that is sonically possible. Like a giant walking through a forrest this song moves with a grooving pulse, leading into the anthemic anti-conservative chorus that has become an IDLES speciality. Their punk roots are as strong as ever even through the colossal sound that the band creates. The driving groove and chugging bass lines of “Anxiety” are reminiscent of those older Brutalism like riffs. With the screeching and searing guitar lines creating a frantic feeling that’s reflecting the emotionally vulnerable lyrics. You can feel the tension not only in the increasingly crunchier riffs but also as the vocals begin to crowd over each other; the panic creeping in.

Through all these huge sonic moments no matter how chaotic they get, there’s still an inept tightness to the bands sound that really drives the punch home. This is mainly in part to the incredible work drummer Jon Beavis does keeping the grooves locked in, allowing the sound to really hit hard. There’s the marching beat of “Kill Them With Kindess” that makes for perfect strutting music. The back and forth swing of “Grounds” that even at its most explosive moments lands back firmly on its feet after sky rocketing with the chorus eruptions. And the pounding jungle like rhythm of closer “Danke” that sends the album out as fiercely as it started. A certified air drum classic. In the lead up to this album the band spoke of how hip-hop had influenced their sound on this album and this is most clearest in the beats of this album; the key element to any hip-hop banger. Take away the menacingly eerie riff of “The Lover” and apply a lo-fi piano melody and get ready to lay some bars.

This album is a culmination of everything that IDLES have become so far and perfectly distills the essence of why this band is one of the most important voices in music. “I am I” is the message and lyric that is repeated throughout this album, a statement that stands as a point of integrity and a “momentary acceptance of the self” as the album packaging states. The message behind the title of the album is that this is the black and white of IDLES, the core elements refined and defined in this career defining album. The thunder can be heard for miles, and until the storm breaks, it’ll be rumbling for a long time to come.

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