Review: Ultra Mono – IDLES

British rock band IDLES once again continue to impress listeners with another fantastic record that features a hulking noise rock venture with even more socio-political commentary.

By Gavin Majeski


The premise of “Ultra Mono” is, “The acceptance of now and I and you. We are not the same but behold something together that is true: the moment,” said frontman Joe Talbot via Facebook upon the release of the band’s newest record. These words beautifully encapsulate the third record by British rock band IDLES. In 2018, the group released “Joy as an Act of Resistance,” which was met with widespread critical praise and was named album of the year according to multiple media outlets such as Far Out Magazine, BBC Radio 6 Music and Louder Than War.

With such a high bar set previously, IDLES 2020 record needed something new in order to remotely hold a candle to its predecessor. In the case of “Ultra Mono,” it does just that and more. During an NPR interview, Talbot stated that he doesn’t believe the band falls under the group’s surface level categorization of “punk.” Talbot believes genre labels can disallow artists the freedom to create the type of music they want to make. Yet, the parallel in sound is clearly apparent along with its blend of post-punk grooves and noise rock ferocity.

“Joy as an Act of Resistance,” along with their 2017 debut, “Brutalism,” both did a great job juggling a blend of aggression, danceability and melancholy existentialism while containing track-after-track of thought-provoking content. While “Ultra Mono” feels less in tune with the group’s post-punk past, the full transition into a noisier soundscape via sour guitar notes, heavy distortion and tracks like “Anxiety,” that feature a complete descent into madness with its assailing attack on the ears, make for its own unique listening experience.

The fantastic opener, “War,” sets the tone of the album with a sticky chorus, roaring, distorted guitars and an excellent drum fill from drummer Jon Beavis. According to the editor’s notes from Apple Music, “War” was the fastest song the group ever recorded. Just like how quickly the group put the song together, the lyrical premise of the track is to not overthink and just do. To overcome the internal war we all have within each of us.

“Grounds” opens with these short, warbly synths that work incredibly well layered over the entirety of the track. This soundplay, along with the piano intro from British jazz artist Jamie Cullum on “Kill Them With Kindness,” futuristic synths during the second leg of “The Lover”  and the saxophone on “Reigns” are more excellent qualities of “Ultra Mono” that help distinguish itself from its predecessors.

“Mr. Motivator” features more consistent, heavy distortion and co-production from hip-hop producer Kenny Beats, who has worked with artists such as Denzel Curry, Dominic Fike and Rico Nasty. “Mr. Motivator” is a lyrical “f**k you” to critics that categorize the band as “punk,” and believe the group tends to repeat overused punk mottos. Talbot’s irony through the use of fake clichés such as, “Conor McGregor with a samurai sword on rollerblades” or “David Attenborough clubbing seal clubbers with LeBron James” makes for one of the most humorous and memorable tracks on the record.

Similarity as humorous, “Anxiety” and “Model Village” not only feature hilarious one-liners such as the randomly shouted, “I’m a f**king dragon!” and “My girlfriend just dumped me for Friday night TV // And a boy who’s six-foot-three,” but memorable choruses and insightful lyrics. “Model Village” in particular is a great juxtaposition of the word “model” and its typical meaning of the ideal version of something, yet the description of the village Talbot speaks of is littered with racism and sexism.

Another fantastic lyrical message on the record comes from the following track, “No Touche Pas Moi,” a purposefully debauched French translation of “don’t touch me.” The anthemic song features a message that informs listeners to not let anybody tell you what you can or can’t do with your body. The repeated line, “Consent!” with featured vocals from French musician Jehnny Beth only adds to the power of the track and how its message isn’t solely coming from Talbot’s male perspective and background.

“Carcinogenic” and “A Hymn” are nice breathers on the LP due to their pacing. “Carcinogenic” contains a slow building opener that eventually transitions into a more straightforward punk track, with a lyrical metaphor on how injustices such as income inequality and political corruption can be a cancer to society. 

“A Hymn” is the longest track on the record, yet never drags on due to its lyricism being seeped in insecurity and sorrow. Whether it’s the slower instrumental, the melodic singing of Talbot, or the repeated, “I wanna be loved // Everybody does,” the track is an excellent way to slowly draw an end to the record.

We are then last greeted with “Danke,” a sonic maelstrom that features an excellent pure instrumental for the first half of the track. Ending “Ultra Mono” with an upbeat cut like “Danke” feels cathartic, but the way the three and a half minute song ends so abruptly, leaves the record off on a slightly sour note. It almost feels as if instead of letting the final guitar note cleanly play out, the note was stopped three-fourths of the way completed.

“Ultra Mono” is just as consistent an IDLES record as any of their previous releases. It just goes to show that quote-unquote “punk” music is far from dead, and in fact is thriving when not instrumentally pigeonholed and combined with a modern lyrical perspective on socio-political inequalities.

Favorite Tracks: ALL