In calling their first album Brutalism, IDLES felt like they were nailing their colours to the mast, both thematically and sonically. The aural assault didn’t really let up during their second and third albums. If anything, it intensified with Ultra Mono in 2020. Album four, Crawler, feels more like its name suggests. As much as Brutalism gave you a thorough pummeling, an emotional bruising, Crawler ought to creep into your ears and your consciousness with far more invasive stealth than any of the band’s work so far.
Part of what stalks you and pins you down comes from the element of surprise. A stand-out song that epitomises the frequent adventures into new musical realms is Stockholm Syndrome. With little moments of proggy grandeur, it could become the foundation stone for IDLES’ future punk rock opera. Being taken hostage and falling for your captors is precisely the effect that music has on the devotee. With their devoted fan following, The AF Gang, the Bristolian Fab Five has a large and active following that does function as some kind of cult. They achieve this sense of captivation, however, through a feeling of love, compassion and searing honesty, plus the distinct absence of locking anyone in a cellar.
Early singles The Beachland Ballroom and Car Crash have already been well received, especially the former, with its ‘long dark evening of the soul’, ‘scraping your soul off the sole of your shoe’, serrated-soul stylings. Listening to both songs in the context of this suite of tracks somehow bestows them with additional emotional heft than just listening to them in isolation. Car Crash (a melange of trip hop, grunge and tinnitus) is preceded by When The Lights Go On, one of the most post-punk tracks they’ve produced so far. It’s followed by IDLES’ dancefloor filler, The New Sensation – a twisted twist that sounds like Outkast for outcasts. The Beachland Ballroom has Stockholm Syndrome before it and is followed by Crawl!, where elements of The Fall, The Wedding Present and Ride collide.
Much has been said already about lead singer Joe Talbot making use of his extreme lows of addiction and a near-fatal road accident in making Crawler. MTT 420RR begins proceedings with an ominous Massive Attack Mezzanine-style beat, followed by sinister indian bells, tremulous, faint backing vocals and an invitation to picture Joe’s protruding spinal cord as shattered glass rains down. It leads us into the question, “Are you ready for the storm?” Much as we’re used to IDLES being the storm, raging against the machinations of some nefarious belief/institution/shitehawk or other, this album places them at the mercy of the storm. Self-medication on Meds, self-doubt on King Snake and self-destruction on The Wheel are the various afflictions. But it all ends (on The End) with self-love.
Ultra Mono’s closer, Danke is searing, swift and intense. Brutalism’s Slow Savage is a comparatively sombre, near-funereal bleeding out. Joy As An Act Of Resistance (and many a live IDLES show) concludes with the moshpit headbanger, Rottweiler – frequently overdosing in a live context in loops of discordant feedback as Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan and Adam Devonshire exploit their pedal boards for maximum distortion. If Crawler’s final track is ever used to close an IDLES show, then that offers something else new and exciting for the IDLES devotee: the notion of a venue resounding with the anthemic chant of “In spite of it all,/ Life is beautiful.”
Crawler is grimly whimsical and refreshingly left-field. It champions the mantras of DGG and KFG. If you’re unsure what those acronyms mean, ask your local AF Ganger.