Only a year after their third studio record Ultra Mono, British post-punk band IDLES released their latest record CRAWLER in mid-November.
A week before the release of CRAWLER, I had the privilege of seeing IDLES perform at The Warfield in San Francisco. The band brought forth their iconic high, positive energy at my second post-lockdown concert. Frontman Joe Talbot was brimming with graciousness, frequently expressing his feelings of gratitude and appreciation to the crowd of fans mirroring back the infectious energy.
This show reminded me how much I just love concerts: I love watching musicians shred, I love watching the audience react to and enjoy the performance, I love physically feeling the beat of the music in my chest as I dance along to the songs that I so frequently play in my headphones, I just love concerts. There is something especially sweet about the power of concerts in a post-lockdown world. For what feels like an eternity, we’ve been deprived of the simple but significant pleasure of convening with fellow humans in the celebration of live music. Frankly, its effects have been devastating. During an era in which the primary feeling towards the general population is one of disappointment and disgust, it is vital to have positive collective experiences.
That being said, this concert experience directly followed the news of the tragic deaths in the crowd at Travis Scott’s Astroworld in Houston, Texas. Reading the firsthand accounts from concertgoers who witnessed the traumatic tragedy was chilling and I was enraged to hear about the festival’s careless execution that allowed for these senseless deaths to occur. Concerts are supposed to unite and bring joy, and rather, unfortunately, this event did neither of those things. Naturally, upon hearing the news I had hesitations about attending the IDLES concert, but ultimately I decided not to let fear ruin a good experience, so I went. I am very glad I did.
After the energetic high from seeing IDLES perform live, I was stoked to hear their latest release.
I was immediately impressed with the artistic direction and execution of CRAWLER. Historically, a major critique from both myself and other critics has been IDLES’ penchant for pandering to PC politics. Recent songs like “Ne Touche Pas Moi,” French for “don’t touch me,” features a shouting chant of “consent.” Other earlier songs like “Danny Nedelko” opens with “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant.” Joe delivers an unneeded lecture on sexual violence in the middle of “Mother:” “Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape / It starts in our books and behind our school gates.” It’s no secret that IDLES tend to lack any lyrical subtly in favor of brazen support for whatever woke discourse du jour. Even though the genre of punk tends to lack subtlety, conceptual discretion is always wise.
It is clear through both lyrical and sonic output of CRAWLER that IDLES have matured throughout the pandemic. The record’s first single, “The Beachland Ballroom,” is a musical “come to Jesus” moment, representative of the rebirth of their conceptual perception. This emotive ballad features a raw vocal performance from Talbot as he sings about the intensity of what was described by the band as “a soul song about coming back from trauma”. When asked about the track, Talbot said, “it’s the most important song on the album, really…The song is sort of an allegory of feeling lost and getting through it. It’s one that I really love singing.”
The record begins with great promise. The opening track “MTT 420 RR” sets the tone for the album as it builds an impending sense of doom with a hypnotizing guitar riff backed by a growing synth while Talbot recounts the details of a fatal motorcycle accident. This opener is one of the band’s most depressing tracks, an honest confession about the death of an innocent man at the hands of Talbot.
Track two “The Wheel” is a solid follow-up to the opener, and track three, “When the Lights Come On” has a particular sonic allure that keeps me coming back. Track four, “Car Crash,” another one of the record’s singles, packs that classic aggressive IDLES punch with a barrage of harsh noise while also revisiting the mounting sense of dread in track one with the lyrical theme of the automobile accident. It’s one of the stronger tracks off the record but is followed by track five which might be the weakest and certainly is the most contrived, cliché track of the record.
Other tracks like “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Crawl!,” and “Meds” are standard, solid IDLES tracks, but track 11 “Progress” changes up the pace. It is an instant standout on CRAWLER — its essence is reminiscent of the record’s opening track, this time with much less support, all is falling as Talbot repeats lyrics about his desire to break free from his destructive tendencies. Around minute two, the synths practically disappear as drums kick in and immediately change the temperature of the atmosphere. A bass-y guitar riff carries the rest of the song that never reaches a final crescendo but rather feels almost infinite as its cyclical composition spins out.
The arrangement of the closing track, “The End,” isn’t their most memorable, however, the lyrics of the chorus encompass the IDLES ethos as Talbot sings “God Damn! God Damn! In spite of it all Life is beautiful” with his whole chest, a sweet ending to a whirlwind record.
A year of soul searching did IDLES well — their new sound, though more of a slow-burning post-punk now than previously an immediate punk, suits them brilliantly. CRAWLER builds upon the momentum of Ultra Mono while expanding past their old tricks to strike a good balance between the “new” and the “familiar.” That, combined with the most intimate display of emotion we’ve seen from the band thus far results in some of the most memorable tracks of their career. IDLES aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and based on the conceptual departure of CRAWLER, I’m more excited than ever to witness the remaining artistic trajectory of this killer band.
score — 8/10
favorite tracks — MTT 420 RR, The Beachland Ballroom, Progress