IDLES – Ultra Mono – Album Review
by Killian Laher
IDLES have dished out some of the finest in-your-face punk rock in recent years. They really delivered on 2018’s Joy As An Act of Resistance album, but not only that, some incendiary live shows have raised expectation levels ahead of this, their third album.
It starts gently with ambient swells of cellos… of course it doesn’t. Opening track War barrels out of the speakers, with singer Joe Talbot roaring within 70 seconds, leading into a chorus of “THIS. MEANS. WARRR!!!!!!!” The song rocks as hard as anything previously heard from them, another IDLES anthem in the making. Grounds sounds like the quintessential IDLES song, rhythm based with stabs of guitar and keyboards and clever, punning lyrics “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of a million sons”. The song stomps along gleefully, even throwing in a brief Eastern motif before the end. Reigns, later in the album, channels a similarly propulsive rhythm as it bashes out pummeling guitars, Talbot singing “how does it feel to have shagged the working classes into dust”. Mr Motivator if anything ups the intensity even more. Talbot barks “like Conor McGregor with a samurai sword on rollerblades” which is as nightmarish an image as you’re likely to hear in 2020. The lyrics and images absolutely fly by, channelling Frida Kahlo, Tracey Emin, The Fall, Flavor Flav before winding up singing “you’re Joe Cal-Fucking-zaghe!”
By now you may well be exhausted with three hugely in your face songs. The album doesn’t let up from there with some of the finest hard rock around currently. Anxiety, Danke and The Lover sound like those solid Queens of the Stone Age songs from the early noughties, though not sure if QOTSA even get as in your face as the band do on the latter, as the track ends with them bawling what sounds like “eat shit!”. A brief snatch of piano introduces another stomper, Kill Them WIth Kindness which is a little like Pearl Jam in their punkier moments only for Talbot’s barked vocals. Model Village has so much energy that you’ll barely keep up – with another roared Lynn Anderson-referencing chorus (“I beg your pardon, I don’t care about your rose garden”). The White Stripes-ish Carcinogenic has a really danceable bassline, its beaten-to-bits guitar twangs showing the band striking out in a new direction. It’s a track with no real precedent in IDLES’ catalogue. The band show they can do something completely different with Hymn. Opening with an eerie, droning keyboard, the song is full of understated menace, threatening to explode into life but never quite doing it. It’s by no means easy-listening but it’s one of the few songs here designed for something other than the moshpit and is one of the finest things they’ve done to date.
The album will definitely be one of the bigger indie-rock albums of the back half of the year. There is a feeling with some of these songs that you’ve heard them before, perhaps a warning sign that this band may repeat themselves every so often. Although those who loved IDLES previous two albums will be delighted with this. One of the most intense albums you’ll hear this year.
3. Mr. Motivator
5. Kill Them With Kindness
6. Model Village
7. Ne Touche Pas Moi
10. The Lover