IDLES third studio album is an energetic and intelligently written soundtrack to a beautiful commentary on a range of modern issues which elevates and evolves the Bristol band’s unique punk sound.
One of the album’s most notable attributes, that make it so quirky, chaotic and fun is the combination of Jon Beavis’s drums and Adam Devonshire’s bass playing. Devonshire has created a fantastic sound for almost every track on the album. On songs such as Reigns and Kill them with Kindness, the bass lines are so energetic and seem to carry the song. The settings on the bass often guides the atmosphere of songs, such as in The Lover, as the heavier tones and gain paired with sparsely used notes mean that the song’s crescendo is huge and leaves you wanting more. The drums throughout the album must be praised for how brilliant they truly are, it’s very difficult to criticise Beavis’s fun and lively drumming style, it never fails to brings the bass and guitars to life. In both Anxiety and Danke, Beavis manages to seamlessly change between different beats. He knows when the song requires complicated loud beats or if a simple high-hat beat is all the song needs. Grounds is the only song that could benefit from a more complicated beat as the slower bass line matches the beat, making the song drag.
Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, the band’s guitarists, very intelligently combine what seems to be two lead guitars. The band has always experimented with opposing riffs; however, Ultra Mono refines it and seems to be the pinnacle of their song writing career. They also experiment with some riffs similar to The Strokes, Royal Blood and Rage Against the Machine, this works so well throughout the record. Danke is a well written song but sometimes the duo get it wrong and leave listeners cringing at the screechy parts of the song. Despite this, the guitar riffs are catchy and are successful at creating an atmosphere throughout the album, they demonstrate the bands evolution from their first two albums. Carcinogenic shows the flexibility of the band’s sound with more gentle chords and less grating guitar slides.
The vocals and lyrics stay true to Idles’ alternative punk routes as they scream and shout about a range of societal issues, from snobbery in Reigns to the toxicity of a sheltered community in Model Village. The band’s oddly charismatic, lead singer, Joe Talbot, looks like your average football thug; his lyrics could not be anything further from it. The vulnerability shown in The Lover and A Hymn are one of the reasons why this record is so diverse from any other punk album. Some of the tracks do come across as the band sticking to what they know, but most of their work breaks through this barrier. They have fantastic instrumentals with lyrics that are incredibly impactful. Model Village, Reigns and Mr Motivator prove this.
Talbot uses his unique tone of voice to fiercely shout about often very touchy subjects. This works brilliantly in Model Village and Reigns, however, the message is occasionally unclear and confusing. Only after listening to Ne Touche Pas Moi several times do I understand the lyrics. Carcinogenic might sound fantastic but the message of the song is very confusing, which is quite detrimental to an album that focuses heavily on addressing serious issues like consent and class divide. Talbot’s approach has definitely improved and adapted from previous albums as each song starts to focus more on the topic rather than unclearly screaming about it, as the band’s debut album does. When the band gets the vocals right its impressive, this is particularly evident in Kill Them With Kindness, which is arguably the best song on the album. However, when they get it wrong, they seem insensitive and lose the narrative that the rest of the album has. Sometimes the lyricism and delivery simply doesn’t suit the instrumental of the song, like in the chorus on Carcinogenic. The only times when this seems to be an issue is during short segments of songs which is why the album as a whole is still brilliant.
Another thing that I love about this album is how well the band can deliver a build-up. They consistently use the bridge to create a sequence that makes you want to keep running and when the drop finally arrives, it does not disappoint. The Lover’s bridge helps the song climb into the ranks of one of the album’s best. The deep bass line and the rise in drums is spectacular. IDLES also experiment a lot with this common technique in A Hymn. It shouldn’t work but it really does. They build up gradually throughout the song with an almost start-stop between choruses. You expect a massive climax but the song mellows out. It works because the song is so emotional and based on the challenge of loving someone. The album is like no other, it sometimes fails to have the same energy and impact on every song but, as a whole, manages to leave you stunned at the band’s genius.
Ultra Mono is a brilliant combination of 5 very skilled musicians, they have created an energetic and fun alternative punk-rock album that addresses some very serious topics while paving the way for a new style of music.
Written by Isaac Lewis