Every once in a while, there comes along a band that gives the music industry a good ol' shake up. One such band - as you likely are already well aware - are the Bristolian punk outfit IDLES. Now three full length records into their career, along with a sold out in less than 24 hours show at Ally Pally and multiple upcoming packed out shows at the legendary Brixton Academy under their belts, the global industry has been given no choice but to take this band very, very seriously.
At this point it wouldn't be too far a stretch to say the IDLES are one of the most pivotal bands in the entire musical landscape right now, not just because they're bonafide sensations but because they get people talking about important issues, addressing things like the class divide, reclaiming the concept of what masculinity means and can be with ironic machismo, unity of the people and so on. A testament to this, their ever growing official fan group, the AF Gang (go on, ask them what AF means) is currently sitting at over 30 thousand members, a place where positivity and supporting each other is celebrated and negativity is nigh on absent. This is by all means no easy feat, but somehow, they've done it.
Determined not to lose momentum by repeating the same old tricks, IDLES have thrown plenty of fresh ideas into the mix to keep their sound captivating and standout. In most cases, it works, but a few off-moments prevent Ultra Mono from being a complete home run. Intro track 'War' falls victim to ill fitting onomatopoeia; frontman Joe Talbot belting out lines like “Clack clack clack a clang clang! That’s the sound of the gun going bang bang” over pedestrian instrumentation that fails to evoke a reaction, it's evidence that they've tried to do something here that hasn't quite landed. However, this is immediately juxtaposed by the colossal stomper 'Grounds', with its rallying chant of “Do you hear that thunder? That's the sound of strength in numbers”. It's simplistic, but powerfully elicit all the same.
'Mr Motivator' is an anthem, dealing out a punk rock dose of steroid positivity, whereas 'Anxiety' feels like a cut out from previous record Joy As An Act Of Resistance, nothing particularly new but equally not disappointing, just in amongst the grand scope of the rest of the record it fails to keep pace. 'Ne Touche Pas Moi' continues the upbeat intensity of 'Mr Motivator', but this time deals with the issue of non consensual contact. The chorus cry out of “THIS IS YOUR DANCE SPACE” is sure, somewhat ironically, open up some gnarly mosh pits once live shows make their return, and despite the on the nose yelling of “CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT”, the track is, for lack of better terminology, punk as heck.
Potentially the loudest, proudest track Ultra Mono has to offer comes from ninth track 'Reigns', from the wobbly bassline to the throbbing backing production, the one-two beating of the drums, and some of Talbots most impressive vocal takes to date as he bellows out “PULL ON MY REEEIGNS”. This is a triumphant demonstration of what happens IDLES attempt something new whilst trying to maintain the musical identity that they've built over the past few years, and it lands spectacularly. However as we previously mentioned, not every new idea brought to the table lands quite so fashionably, their more sombre and downplayed approach to 'A Hymn' leaves much to be desired, it's muddy and sluggish by design, but it just doesn't quite deliver on the atmosphere it's attempting.
At the end of the Ultra Mono experience, you are left with some of IDLES boldest, most powerful moments, yet also some of their most banal. That's not however, to understate what has been achieved here, as when this record hits it hits hard, and more importantly than that, it hits with purpose. In years to come, this record may well be just another notch in what is sure to be a long and fruitful career for Talbot, Bowen, Devonshire, Beavis and Kiernan, but right now, it is an essential blast of forward momentum in a world that's seemingly been lit on fire and sold off to the highest bidder.
Ultra Mono is released September 25th via Partisan Records. Pre-order the album here.