It has been a long two years since IDLES released their previous LP Joy as an Act of Resistance, with Brit and Mercury prize nominations, a Kerrang ‘Best British Breakthrough’ title and even an art exhibition now under their belt. However, I’m sure the Bristol outfit didn’t anticipate releasing their third album, Ultra Mono, into the dystopian reality that 2020 has become.
The scene that opening track ‘War’ sets is one of brutality and chaos as frontman Joe Talbot screams out the onomatopoeic sounds of battle, strewn between cascading guitars and machine-gun drums; ‘This means war!’ he exclaims, and you would be hard pushed not to believe this statement of intent. The mayhem crescendos towards the end of the track, with the rhythm section in full flight: this is the sound of a band brimming with confidence.
Track 2, ‘Grounds’, allows no time for the listener to draw breath. This synth-driven stomper calls for unity as the political frustration that flows through this album begins to rise out of a wall of distortion and thunderous bass. Closely following comes ‘Mr Motivator’, which despite its lycra wearing namesake doesn’t have a drop of ’80s nostalgia about it. Now you begin to hear the lyrical wit that has become synonymous with IDLES’ previous work, with pop culture references ranging from a roller-blading Conor McGregor to a drunk Delia Smith, Talbot pokes fun enquiring “How’d you like them clichés?”. This song, given the addition of typically raw riﬀs and four to the floor drums, sounds like the remnants of a bar fight between Franz Ferdinand and John Cooper Clarke; tremendous.
Ultra Mono’s most tender moment comes at the soft piano intro of ‘Kill them with Kindness’, played by none other than the famously ‘un-rock and roll’ Jamie Cullum. This reflective moment acts as a dramatic juxtaposition to the unapologetic stomp that follows throughout the rest of the song, reminiscent of early White Stripes. This contrast is a theme across the album as lyrics of unity, joy and love sit above a soundscape of loud, aggressive rock.
The veil that covers the satire present in this album is at its thinnest during the anti-Brexit ‘Model Village’, as this agitated post-punk bop sarcastically reels oﬀ images of overpriced drugs, low crime rates and, of course, ‘gammon’. Beneath the Boris bashing slogans however, is a brash and tight rhythm section with a musicality that underpins the quality of this LP. A wider scope of sonic pastures are explored here compared to previous works, through ‘Carcinogenic’, evoking images of Joy Division in their pomp, to the anthemic ‘The Lover’, and the glitchy, contemplative ‘A Hymn’.
The essence of Ultra Mono is one of defiance and inclusivity, delivered though beautiful chaos and intent. IDLES are not trying to reinvent the punk wheel or even carry on the traditions of an ailing genre, but instead are forging their own brand of anarchy irrelevant of definitions. This LP is as humorous as it is self-aware and as angry as it is melodic, culminating in the perfect cathartic listen for the times we live in.
Order the album here.