Tag Archives: IDLES

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”

Monthly Playlist: Sep. 2020

3 Oct

September 2020 saw the release of a surprise Fleet Foxes album, a much-awaited IDLES follow-up, emphatic returns from the likes of Alicia Keys and Sufjan Stevens, and lots more. Read on for our picks of the top five songs from the month that was.

5. “Love’s Gone Bad” from the Jaded Hearts Club

The Jaded Hearts Club is a supergroup featuring the who’s who of early aughts indie rock. Nic Crester from Jet and Miles Kane from the Last Shadow Puppets share vocal duties, with instrumentation from Muse’s Matt Bellamy (bass), Blur’s Graham Coxon (guitar) and a few other friends. Their music, as the obvious reference to Sgt. Pepper’s suggests, is a mix of these members’ indie rock sensibilities essentially converging into a Beatles tribute band. “Love’s Gone Bad” from early September features classic rock riffs and an energetic Lennon-esque presence from Kane. If you liked the Beatles and/or any of these gentlemen’s bands, it’s likely you’ll like this tune. Incidentally, the Jaded Hearts Club released their debut album You’ve Always Been Here just today, so be sure to check that out if you liked this track.

4. “FRANCHISE” by Travis Scott, feat. Young Thug and M.I.A.

You can recognize a Travis Scott beat anywhere. The dull boom of a thick bass line, paired with hypnotic notes and his lilting flow, became a signature on the well-received Astroworld, and it’s no different here. “FRANCHISE” sucks you right in – not just because of this things, but also because of a fantastic early chime-in from the one-and-only M.I.A. The British-Sri Lankan rapper holds her own with Scott and Young Thug, especially on her onomatopoeic turns with Sheck Wes (yes, he’s on here too). All in all, this is a slick and talent-heavy single from Travis Scott and friends – give it a spin.

3. “War” by IDLES

IDLES, much like their Irish counterparts Fontaines D.C., are key drivers of the rock scene across the pond these days. The British punk band has enjoyed widespread acclaim with striking debut Brutalism and equally-hard-hitting sophomore album Joy As An Act of Resistance. They returned this month with third album Ultra Mono, of which “War” is the opener. And open it does. The song hits like a shot of adrenaline, with brutal drumming that’s inter-cut with relentless guitar riffs. Despite lasting just about three minutes, “War” gives you a feel for senseless battle, from the mentions of Johnny and Sally being sent to their deaths right down to the explicit sound of a sword going in.

2. “Turntables” by Janelle Monae

We didn’t know this before, but apparently Amazon has funded an election-year, straight-to-Prime documentary called All In: The Fight For Democracy. While the thought of a Jeff Bezos vehicle talking about the fight for democracy in the context of billionaire-ridden modern-day America is a dubious proposition (to say the least), we can’t ignore this great track from multi-faceted legend Janelle Monae. The actress-singer-LGBTQ-icon here serves a rousing, patriotic ode to civil rights, liberties and all that the America-of-yore stood for: “I’m kicking out the old regime / Liberation, elevation, education / America, you a lie / But the whole world ’bout to testify”. Her lines work especially well on the music video that features striking visuals of the ongoing civil rights demonstrations in the US; check it out above.

1. “Trouble’s Coming” by Royal Blood

Royal Blood are a two(!)-piece rock band from Brighton, consisting simply of Mike Kerr on vocals / bass guitar and Ben Thatcher on drums. Their self-titled debut album blew us away with the sheer volume and breadth of sound that these two people can produce, as did their sophomore album How Did We Get So Dark?. Now, ahead of their third album next year, The band has released “Trouble’s Coming” – a searing ride through familiar Royal Blood territory. The song of course features all the Royal Blood trademarks (Thatcher’s relentless drums, Kerr’s sneering vocals), but what we found most interesting was its dance-rock undertones, especially on the earworm of a chorus (“I hear trouble coming, over and over again”). Beware while listening, though: this is the kind of song that will make you dearly miss live performances.

%d bloggers like this: