Since they first came to prominence with their 2015 debut album ‘Brutalism’, Bristol-based post- punks IDLES have had their authenticity, sincerity and motives repeatedly called into question. With the release of ‘UItra Mono’ (their third studio LP), they find themselves in the firing line yet again.
Thankfully, ‘Ultra Mono’ is IDLES at their combative, chest-beating best – backing down from nobody, and embracing their reputation as cliché-wielding, misty-eyed snowflakes by taking on toxic masculinity, crooked politicians and social injustices once more.
IDLES come roaring out of the gate on ‘Ultra Mono’ with the thunderous ‘War’. Joe Talbot’s deliberately hammy onomatopoeic lyrics are surprisingly effective, and the percussion-heavy production is hair-raising.
‘Grounds’ is a highlight, and it’s lyrics are directed squarely at the haters: “You will not catch me staring at the sun/Not sucking on a dum dum/Not turning round to run”. The surprisingly direct rush of ‘Anxiety’, and the industrial clangour of ‘Kill Them With Kindness’ both find the band playing with different textures, different flavours, different dynamics. ‘Anxiety’ betrays the influence of early 00s indie on their sound, and the robo-glam stomp of ‘KTWK’ evokes Queens Of The Stone Age at their most abrasive.
More shades and textures appear in the form of shoutalong anthem ‘Model Village’, which actually could be a Sleaford Mods song repurposed for full-band instrumentation, and ‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’, which is about as classic punk as IDLES have ever got. ‘Carcinogenic’ provides the album with some much needed space, but is still uncompromisingly intense.
As well as being the best song on the album, ‘Reigns’ seems points towards the route IDLES may go on their future albums, such is its seeming incompatibility with the rest of the material on ‘Ultra Mono’. Or maybe you’ll listen to ‘The Lover’ and think it’s an avenue IDLES might pursue in future – a darker, more claustrophobic kind of industrial punk that draws on Nine Inch Nails.
The final two tracks – ‘A Hymn’ and ‘Danke’ – are stunning. The former is an Interpol-esque gothic miniature, while the latter is a final full-power send off to what’s been a superbly sequenced album, reminding the listeners just what they’re capable of.
Some of the concerns raised about IDLES are valid and need to be addressed; that said, whether you believe in what IDLES are doing (or not) is immaterial at this point. What matters here is the quality of the music, and ‘Ultra Mono’ is a collection of undeniably invigorating songs that will inspire and provoke and empower many listeners across the globe.
While not their best work, ‘Ultra Mono’ takes many leaps forward in terms of songwriting and tunecraft, while blowing a few kisses at their detractors. That’ll be mission accomplished.
Words: Ross Horton
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