Direct, divisive and darkly humorous, if you’re looking for an album that packs all of these qualities as well as a major punch then look no further than Ultra Mono, the third studio album from Bristol rockers IDLES.
Since receiving critical acclaim upon the release of their aptly named debut album ‘Brutalism’ in 2017 the band have consistently stayed true to themselves in speaking the truth- no matter how harsh. Frontman Joe Talbot refuses to be defined by genre and continually denies claims that they fit under the ‘punk’ umbrella despite comparisons to likes of Shame and even Fontaines D.C. a band at the current forefront of the genre. One thing there’s no denying though is that they’ve truly developed their own distinct sound. A belligerent beat creates a mechanical feel that ticks along at the heart of their music; more so on this album than ever before, helping to seamlessly transition between tracks and allow Talbot to fire off his often frenzied but equally thoughtful lyrics.
Blunt political statements are a prominent driving force behind both their music and in recruiting steady support from many however, the same proclamations also result in severance from others who feel they’re too judgemental. They recognise the irony in these opinions though and in no way care that it repels, continuing to speak their mind and confronting any hate in witty lyrics with examples including “there’s nothing brave and nothing useful, you scrawling your aggro shit on the walls of the cubicle” dominating second track ‘Grounds’. There’s no shying away from other charged topics either with passion filled songs on the likes of white privilege, toxic masculinity and feminism; even bringing onboard Savages Jehnny Beth to practice what they preach by featuring some defiant female vocals on ‘Ne Touché Pas Moi’ further driving home their beliefs of equality.
Ultra Mono encapsulates a feeling of doom simmering inside most listeners given the current climate. A sense of terror looms throughout but unlike many that internalise this, they break through the surface to address the sense of urgency and need for action by exploding in exciting anger with raging riffs and aggressive vocals. This, combined with the military coherence created by their rhythm section leaves you steadily riled up throughout the record, resulting in a sense of unity against the common enemy, building the “strength in numbers” referenced again in Grounds. There’s plenty more to the record than anger though; from the surprisingly tender ‘A Hymn’- a melancholic vessel for channeling their emotions and delivering opinions in a softer way, to the comically propelled Model Village, with a sinister undertone that that feels so familiar you can’t help but laugh. All tracks combined, you’re left submerged in an oppressive atmosphere, ready and raring to escape the constraints of the everyday and confront whatever darkness is on the horizon.
The main concern on the run-up to this third release was that the band wouldn’t channel the boldness they exude in their songs when it comes to exploring new grounds (no pun intended). To a certain point, this worry has been addressed as the band worked with producer Kenny Beats, infusing a touch of his hip hop background right into the record’s veins and also collaborated with jazz-pop pianist Jamie Cullum on ‘Kill Them With Kindness’ for a further twist. Despite this, they don’t venture too far from previous material but it’s clear to see that they’ve sustained a real direction and are more focused on upholding their own belief in what they should be, delivering something for existing fans rather than pleasing everyone and converting anyone that opposes.
As a whole, Ultra Mono is a strong follow up to their previous Mercury Prize nominated album ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ that couldn’t have come at a more apt time. The driving feeling evoked in their tunes looks set to continue, helping to thrust them forward and prove that when it comes to speaking up about what they believe in, Idles wont be staying idle.