Album Review: Idles – Brutalism


Live4ever’s politics are varied, but we had to laugh recently when one of those bedroom-Fuhrer types declared on Twitter that ‘conservatism is the new punk rock’.

The absolute absurdity of comparing a movement whose central cant is to hate anything that doesn’t conform to one created from strands of Dadaism, the fractured belief system of the Situationists and that fostered anarchy, was clearly ridiculous. But even in its ignorance, the claim brought our thoughts back to the swift commodification of the movement, the pace at which society imported its revolutionary grift and turned rebellion into an overblown merch sale.

Idles are a five piece from Bristol featuring Joe Talbot, Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan, Adam Devonshire and Jon Beavis. They began playing together in 2010, although Talbot has said they’ve ‘known each other for many years…the want to make music brought us together and has subsequently killed our friendship’. Growing like fungus, largely cut-off in that part of the folkie loving and trip-hop feted south west, they’ve spent their time becoming, Talbot reckons, ‘more spiteful’ with each release, their two EPs to date – Welcome and 2015’s Meat – progressively jabbing ever more buttons and scratching itches you never knew you had.

More than that, Idles have taken punk’s most loveable quality – that of applying microscopic duress to straight society’s foibles until they become farce – and stretched it over skin tight, furious rhythms, covering the listener in their sweat and sarcastic bile. Brutalism is the first time the quintet have been obliged to apply this formula over the middle distance, a stretching often the death knell for agit-prop. But to their immense credit, this debut is radical and laugh out loud funny, a musical IED carved from a hatred of humanity but in equal measure a dynamically humanist philosophy.

Its humour is often the blackest (and therefore the best). On the scabrous reel of Exeter, the Devonshire town’s cultural abyss is dissected viscerally, from the man who “punched himself in the face to prove he isn’t gay”, to the half a dozen Begbie clones who congregate in pubs on the off chance of self instigated violence. Not much of the things we cling on to are safe here, whether it’s the delusion of organised religion and fatalism (Faith In The City) or the risible locked in syndrome of the consumer on the frenetic opener Heel Heal. In lesser hands this would simply be an avalanche of sneering invective, the liberal elitez mocking the wrongs with misplaced hubris. Equally, the likes of Future Of The Left turned dead panned flaming non sequiturs into killing yr. idols even before the country’s politics lurched so conveniently right.

Even so, there’s an energy to Brutalism that invites new perspective: the sheer daftness of White Privilege, for example, with its roster of fools, frauds and victims stoops to conquer and salve within a fabric of pneumatic bass and drums and throttled guitars.

In this climate, it’s almost gauche to pick ‘favourites’, as if Brutalism’s sum is somehow less than its parts, but this convention leads us to stumble over choosing the almost nauseous scree of Well Done, a song so jacked up on satire it almost combusts with pithy self loathing, versus the eventual booby prize winner 1049 Gotho, as close as Idles get to the normal musically, but as full of Munch-poetry as the rest of this compacted, suffocating, brilliant mess.

Back to our friends on social media, sub-political homunculi with intellects to match. To them we ask what not they can do for themselves: of Idles we ask what they can do for our country.

(Andy Peterson)

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