Album Reviews Music

Album Review: ‘Ultra Mono’ by IDLES

Words by Will Jones
Image courtesy of Sonic PR

IDLES have become the adoptive fathers of a revived post-punk genre. Ultra Mono only further cements their place at the head of the army – generals ordering their growing fanbase to unite and fight. 

Despite resounding acclaim for Brutalism (2017) and Mercury Prize-nominated Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018), this is the first time that the 5-piece are releasing a record to a hungry, and now very populous, faction of troops. These troops will be bountifully stocked and satisfied with the ammunition provided by lead singer Joe Talbot and co. on Ultra Mono.

The opening track, War, delivers guitar licks that almost echo the stark cries of a wailing child, but they still sit comfortably atop rolling drums. The song is repeatedly interrupted by walls of distorted noise; Talbot is angry, and he’s “gunning for the stone-faced liars”. Swiftly following is the stand-out single Grounds, which successfully fuses hip-hop and dance elements with the band’s unique brand of arrant post-punk that has placed them at the forefront of the genre. The drums skip in time with the snarly vocals whilst a fleeting ascending riff closes each line, and the lyrics continue the overarching theme of war: “Do you hear that thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers.” This isn’t the only auditory experiment on Ultra Mono. Kill Them With Kindness brings with it a much needed piano interlude performed by jazz musician Jamie Cullum – because, well, why not? Naturally, this is immediately disrupted by earthquake-inducing drums, a raucous guitar riff, and roaring vocals. A gratifying return to normality.

Once again, the Bristol-based band don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social matters. On racism, Talbot declares “I raise my pink fist and say black is beautiful.” On the song Model Village, he exclaims that there’s a lot of “I’m not a racist ‘but’ in the village”. It stands as a deeply witty and astute commentary of the racist tropes in Little England, and it might just be IDLES’ cleverest song yet.

Whilst the album isn’t idle, it is ultra mono in tone. They aren’t trying to win over any new fans, they have no need to change their ways. Although this record rarely varies sonically, it’s far from tedious. The excitement and progression of the quintet comes from their self-aware tackling of arising social issues. In a world that presents a new one every other day, IDLES have serious longevity. The battle cry on Ultra Mono? Everyone is different, and that’s what makes us collectively powerful.

Ultra Mono was released on September 25th via Partisan Records.

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