MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
Idles: Ultra Mono
Partisan Records, 2020
Sure, this was just released recently, but I’ve listened to it over and over, and was so compelled to listen to it LOUD that I ran out the day after and just bought the CD for listening in my car, (which I hardly ever do – I usually only buy CDs used, exclusively for my car – I’m a vinyl junkie, dig?) which is one of the times I can really let heavier music rip. It is easily my favorite new record of 2020. Also, these are MY fucking thoughts, my ‘Memos,’ right?!
So, let’s get something straight: Sometimes there is music that, while flirting with heavier themes, is in essence, simply supposed to be fun. Such a band is usually quite aware of what they are doing, and a sense of humor, an awareness that tongue is firmly in cheek, is absolutely necessary to truly enjoy. Idles have always struck me as such a band.
I’ve liked these guys since their first record, “Brutalism,” and they’ve never been shy about being socially conscious, but I was never struck by their records the way this one has hit me and I’m fully aware that the biggest difference is timing. This is simply a wonderfully heavy pummeling “punk” album that was made exactly for this moment. The songs are fairly simple in structure, and all are built around a repetition of some riff or minimal musical idea. As the liner notes tell us, this is how they wrote, and it is part of the idea of “Ultra Mono” — a trust and love of self, and a kind of plain and practical immediatism. This is also clear in the lyrics; I’ve heard there were some bad reviews complaining about them, but they are half of why this album has struck such a chord in me! This is an album for all the folks out there marching for justice, for those of us for whom the growing awareness of the economic and racial disparities is a welcome thing, a herald in the global cultural ‘cold civil war’ that seems to be ratcheted up daily.
“Do you hear that thunder?” frontman and lyricist, Joe Talbot, asks in “Grounds,” one of the earlier singles, “That’s the sound of strength in numbers!” Yup, that’s the kinda stuff we’re talking about here. “Not a single thing has ever been mended/ by you standing there saying you’re offended./ Go ahead and tell them what I’ve intended/ I’ll say what I mean, do what I love, and fucking send it.” Later, in the song, “The Lover,” he sings, “There’s a feeling washing over me/ it was built by you and me/ our unity makes me feel so free/ to say ‘fuck you! I’m a lover.” The first time I heard this in all its deceptively facile simplicity, I couldn’t help laughing in agreement. As is probably clear in my writing, I’m no hater, I’m a fucking lover. I get shit from people, and even friends fuck with me constantly, because I choose to stay positive, I’m amiable. I don’t make small talk, I like real talk, I’m goofy, and I don’t complicate matters simply for the sake of it. Life is already hard without us making it harder on ourselves.
The production here is insanely impressive and contains additional “programming” by hip-hop producer Kenny Beats, which only contributes to the balled-fist power of the more atmospheric electronic skronk. The mix is possessed of an amazing clarity with the guitar perfectly serrated and chunked up and the bottom end totally present without being blown out. Their drummer is their not-so-secret weapon, a fucking brute machine, and he is the tip of the bayonet of their combative sound. There are guest spots by Jehnny Beth of Savages, and a couple tunes have David Yow of The Jesus Lizard, one of my favorite frontmen of all time, adding some vocals, which is perfectly appropriate seeing as how part of the sound owes some debt to The Jesus Lizard. This record fucking SLAYS and is a perfect martial call to everyday battles and those which still lie ahead of us in the struggle for justice and the fight against nationalist fascism that keepers of the status quo around the world are hell bent on. Fuck ‘em though. We are lovers!