By Caleb Spencer / Campus Editor
After releasing “Joy as an Act of Resistance” in 2018, the Bristol band IDLES found themselves at the top of the recent post-punk revival.
With a focus on unity and self-love, that album brought a different style of lyrical content to the genre compared to their contemporaries. Coming into their next album, IDLES wanted to make their best sounding album yet, signing on hip-hop producer Kenny Beats to produce “Ultra Mono”. While they do succeed in making a stellar-sounding album, the focus on production leads to some lesser quality elsewhere on the album.
Starting with the positives, the production on the entire album is top-notch. Beats managed to make every drum hit punchy and crystal clear, every bassline thick and heavy, and all guitar riffs noisy without turning to complete mush. I did not notice a single instance where the sound quality dipped, which can be a challenge, considering how hectic some of the tracks on “Ultra Mono” get sometimes.
Songs like “War”, “Grounds”, “Model Village” and “Reigns” show the production quality best. “War” opens the album with fervent drums leading a fast-paced bassline to the first verse, managing to bridge a nice combination of noisy energy and clear audio from every instrument and vocal delivery. “Grounds” features more electronic production throughout the song, but brings in more noise and distortion on the guitars, especially as the song reaches its climax.
“Model Village” sounds relatively average production-wise until you consider the subtle build of each instrument in the background as each verse creeps to the chorus, getting more and more distorted along the way. Finally, “Reigns” starts with heavy bass and a simplistic drumline as waves of murderous TV static threaten to break through your headphones. Each song features an interesting move with its production, but I wish the same could be said about the lyrical content of each track.
While never being known for the best songwriting in the world, IDLES has shown they can write powerful lyrics and one-liners from time to time. However, I feel like the attempts featured on “Ultra Mono” are even weaker than they were on their last two albums.
The biggest issue I have is how surface-level the observations are with heavy topics. For example, on “Grounds”, IDLES attempts to shed light on racism within Britain and the United States with the line “So I raise my pink fist and say black is beautiful,” bringing nothing to the conversation outside of a blanket statement saying “I support Black Lives Matter.” This happens again on “Ne Touche Pas Moi” with the chorus featuring three shouts of “Consent! Consent! Consent!” Having such aggressive attempts at sharing universally accepted ideas makes it feel like the band thinks what they’re saying hits harder than it does.
The most frustrating part of these surface-level phrases is that IDLES has written about both of these issues with greater prowess on their earlier albums. The song “Mother” from 2016’s “Brutalism” speaks about sexual violence being larger than the cruel acts people mentally associate with the term, and spans into a systemic issue that cannot be avoided.
“Danny Nedelko” from 2018’s “Joy as an Act of Resistance” explains simply how xenophobia can lead to rises in fascism. These are the same topics touched on in “Grounds” and “Ne Touche Pas Moi,” but with real substance attached to them.
However, these issues do not take away from my overall enjoyment of the album. The entire album hits hard and doesn’t let up, leading to an enjoyable post-punk experience. Despite missing its potential, “Ultra Mono” still packs a punch.
Caleb Spencer is an Andale sophomore and the Collegian’s Campus Editor studying Media Production and Communication.