Album Review: Idles – “Brutalism”
It’s always worth paying attention when bands recommend other up-and-comers you’ve barely heard of, so when Turbowolf advised me to check out fellow Bristolians Idles during an interview a few years back, I did just that, and I admit I wasn’t quite prepared for what I encountered. A caustic blend of old school punk and the edgier side of modern indie rock, Idles seemed to be a band unwilling to compromise on any of their initial releases. Fortunately they’ve recovered from their insane live shows for long enough to bang together a debut full-lengther in the form of the fascinating Brutalism.
The five-piece have had to go through that often tricky job of translating their unique live experience to record and succeed immediately with the one-two of Heel/Heal and Well Done. The former with its confrontational discordance and the latter’s bizarre Mary Berry references help both play out as totally unhinged pieces of jarring punk, but there’s also a sly grin pervading throughout. In fact, you almost feel guilty for picking out this underlying humour in parts of Brutalism, it’s that terrifyingly intense, but it makes the record supremely British in tone, and acts as a mind-bending juxtaposition to the fury in Idles’ grimy riffs.
Date Night is one such song, evoking Arctic Monkeys just as much as it does The Stooges or The Cramps, while the slower Divide & Conquer with its malevolent intro never lets up. Rachel Khoo, one of the most accessible songs on the album, is almost a punk country ballad but this doesn’t make it any less dangerous and Idles don’t shy away from reminding the listener that punk can still be violently unnerving, as well as carrying a serious message in its quirky rhythms. Take Stendhal Syndrome; a brutal interpretation of the fact that one man’s art could well be another’s laughing stock, or the ode to boredom that is Exeter. During both, Idles insist that not everything is all that it seems and that it’s vitally important to challenge the status quo, not just due to some misplaced loyalty to a 40 year old movement, but because it’s never been more relevant to do so than today.
It may be easy on a first cursory listen to Brutalism just to hear the simplicity in Joe Talbot’s sometimes repetitive lyrics or Jon Beavis’ stark drumbeats, but there are a whole bunch of important songs here that whilst political, don’t come across as preachy, they’re just waiting to have their layers unpicked with a few repeat plays.
A stunningly well-realised debut from Idles, Brutalism is a dangerously effective reflection of the band's power and in-your-face spite. Losing nothing from their renowned live shows, this record is as good a punk effort as you're likely to get in 2017 and it's brilliantly British to boot.