This is a tough review to write: I cannot stress how excited I have been for Ultra Mono, which is somewhat setting myself up to fail. Either I adore the record, washed away with my unaltered fanboy excitement and sacrifice my critical edge, or I have overhyped the release to a point where it could never possibly live up to it.
Idles have made an impact in the British alternative scene, releasing ‘Brutalism’ in 2017 and their massive hit follow up ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ in 2018. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the success of ‘Joy’; I first started listening to Idles when Brutalism came out and I liked the album, but it didn’t blow me away. Then the video for ‘Colossus’ came out and in a singular moment it fried my little dried up brain. I soon became a bit of a fanboy, I cannot lie. When ‘Joy’ released it hit perfectly. The album undoubtably slaps -there’s no other valid opinion – and during that time I was fully embracing my Punk tastes, mutating into the sub-human fiend that I am. On release a lot of my mates got into it as well, allowing us to bond over the tunes, not to mention a spontaneous 2-hour road trip with my best pal to see them play an unforgettable show in Oxford. This all meaning that ‘Joy’ holds some truly cherished memories with me – good luck living up to that.
‘Ultra Mono’ has been teased for quite some time, giving me a reason to navigate this excruciating void called Life. To soothe our wait, Idles released a lost track ‘Mercedes Marxist’. Although the track is actually pretty solid, it just didn’t excite me and with that initial listen a crippling anxiety dug into my chest – what if Idles have stagnated? But I held faith in my beautiful Bristol boys. ‘Mr. Motivator’ was the first of the new record to release and sure, I do like the track a fair but it once again it didn’t feel fresh – like eating 4-day old pizza, it’s good but this moment ain’t on the highlight reel. Seeds of doubt had been planted.
Then ‘Grounds’ released and after listening to it I simply stared into the mirror for several hours, studying all the details of a clown. The track feels like an evolution – it rarely strays from the ‘traditional’ but gains a pulsing electronic wail opening the track only to be beaten into submission by the driving drums that have become synonymous with the group. This is mixed with a perfectly placed bassline that pinches at your pulse and hard but affecting lyrics. Listening to the piece lets you shed the stress, anxiety and weight of daily life and give in to a full release – a healthy way to channel yourself with some hard motherfuckers of tracks.
Are Idles the heaviest or the hardest band around? No, but they have one of the most distinct sounds. I think what really does it for me is the brutal drumbeats, they sit in a genius spot between being basic enough that you can immediately sync into the rhythm while consistently surprising, evolving, and keeping your energy high. What does any great drummer need? A tasty bassist to supplement and expand the sound – and that’s where Dev comes in, creating death-defying basslines that build an incredibly rich and realised sound. These two are a match made in heaven: musical soulmates.
The opening track of Ultra Mono, ‘War’, puts the above into perfect practice. This track is fucking incredible, honestly, I am finding hard to put into words how great this track is – no wonder I don’t get paid for my writing – it’s raw with a contagious energy that seeps through your headphones. Honestly, when I listen to this my jaw clenches as I lose control of my muscles; a perfect start to the record and a tasty promise for what is to come.
The driving drums and basslines, the unforgettable vocals from Joseph Talbot and the guitar work give this whole record a cinematic and premium sound. I know that may sound like a criticism but each factor of Idles work are so high quality that every track feels special. What is hugely impressive is that, although a lot of the tracks stick to a rigid soundscape, none of the tracks blend into one another, after only a few spins I can comfortably hum most of them – a sign of the quality of the writing and musicianship. It’s easy for tracks to lose their identity over an album but this never happens with ‘Ultra Mono’. With each track there is always a new element that pulls you in and with intelligent lyrics that commit themselves to your memory without permission, it’s hard not to feel that ‘Ultra Mono’ works as both a cohesive record and a collection of individual tracks.
My only criticism is that some tracks feel safe – ‘Mr. Motivator’ and ‘The Lover’ are good tracks but are typical fare. Because of this they don’t really make the impact nor the impression that they should. The release on the whole isn’t an experimental affair and that’s fine, but I feel as if at times they have been locked in a cage, they constantly tease new stuff which isn’t fully fleshed out or completely dropped – like the opening of ‘Kill them with Kindness’. An extra track where they tried something completely new could have given the release a lot more personality. When it does deviate with tracks like ‘A Hymn’ it shows the talent of the artists, but they rarely breach that side.
Overall ‘Ultra Mono’ is a fantastic release. Over this review I’ve mentioned the intelligent and meaningful lyrics, the excellent guitar riffs and instantly memorable pieces – but if you’ve listened to Idles then this isn’t surprising. I think the best way to review this record is to say that it is fucking tight, it’s a more refined version of their prior work without losing grasp on their signature raw passion which permeates the group. I sincerely hope that with their inevitable 4th release they expand their sound. But I am in love with this release. Will it surpass ‘Joy’? I don’t know, but currently I just want to submerge my self in ‘Ultra Mono’ till humanity ends.
It’s a great release, with some tidy tracks. Give it a listen and until then toodle fuckin’ doo.