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IDLES – Ultra Mono

16 Nov

With 2020 coming to an end (thankfully), we are looking back at a few albums that we couldn’t quite cover in time over the course of the year. The first of these is Ultra Mono by British post-punk bank IDLES.

IDLES, along with their fellow upstarts Fontaines DC, are one of the bands at the forefront of the United Kingdom’s nouveau punk rock movement. Traditionally, punk has always political, but this latest wave feels different. This new, post-punk wave doesn’t dabble in non-specific references to the anti-establishment message. Instead, they’re laser-focused on a working-class, often leftist sentiment that’s rather in line with today’s sociopolitical environment, especially in the Western hemisphere.

IDLES have walked this path for a while now. Their debut album Brutalism (2017) explored themes of loss and grief through the lens of raw anger – in other words, a perfect concoction for a great punk album. The band’s sophomore album Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018) performed similar feats, topping BBC Radio 6’s top 10 albums list that year. Although the albums were focused on inward feelings – grief, rage, and so on – there are numerous references to austerity, right-wing and anti-poor rule in today’s UK, and so on.

With Ultra Mono, the band is more resolutely political than ever before. The album kicks off with the firecracker single “War”, which we’ve covered in our Sep. 2020 Monthly Playlist on Top Five Records. As the name suggests, the song is a cynical look at war and the lives it takes – from the enemy but from the fighting party, too. “Mr Motivator”, the first single, is laced with references to bellicose boxers to underline its message of self-organization to fight back and seize the day (against fascists, we’d assume, with the positive reference to noted communist Frida Kahlo). “Grounds” can be used to soundtrack populist political campaigns, with resounding lines like “Do you hear that thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers”.

Looking beyond the overt populist lyrics, Ultra Mono is oftentimes just catchy as hell, plain and simple. We’ve already lauded “War” with its relentless drums and driving riffs that essentially amount to musical adrenaline. The aforementioned “Grounds” also impresses with a stripped-down, jagged sound that is well-served by lead singer Joe Talbot’s sing-song vocals. “Model Village” is ostensibly about the tabloid-consuming “I’m not racist but…” types from rural Britain, akin to their Fox News-consuming cousins on the other side of the pond, but IDLES manages to thumb their noses at them with hilarious, memorable lines like “I beg your pardon / I don’t care about your rose garden”.

All told, Ultra Mono is a memorable addition to the post-punk discography emerging in the post-Brexit British landscape. File this one next to the equally irreverent Nothing Great about Britain by rapper (and, apparently, IDLES’ friend) Slowthai.

Rating: 7/10

Best songs: “War”, “Grounds”, “Model Village”

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