Idles - Brutalism (Cover Artwork)


Brutalism (2017)

Balley Records

Brutalism feels like an instant landmark moment in modern punk history. At first I chalked my love for the record up to its sonic similarities to a myriad of other punk classics, but there’s far more to Brutalism than its influences. IDLES takes the compressed, bassy production of modern acts like No Age and Pissed Jeans and applies to a series of menacing instrumental performances under the eccentric, yet simultaneously muscular deliveries of vocalist Joe Talbot.

Right off the bat, Talbot’s strong British accent spawns comparisons to the likes of Johnny Rotten or Steve Ignorant, which are only aided by the palpable anger and sarcasm that it’s often drenched in.

Though Talbot’s performances steal the show for most of the runtime, IDLES come through with some incredible instrumental pieces. With the exception of the closer, IDLES is firing on all cylinders with the booming, distorted bass and driving drum parts generally filling in the majority of the band’s sonic palette. The guitar parts are often so noisy and doused in feedback and reverb that their intricacies are almost unintelligible. This arrangement often manifests into a seemingly uncontrolled chaos, but it’s when the band is able take these musical clusterfucks and reorganizes them into coordinated passages (such as the chorus of, or even the repeated vocal partitions during the verse of “Well Done”) that IDLES is able to hit hardest.

The juxtaposition of passages attacked with synchronized precision with passages that have nothing of the sort helps to make up for the lack of much of any other type of instrumental dynamism. Brutalism is explosive on a track by track basis, but there’s nothing for it to really explode out of. Every track is just a repeated bashing over the head, which would undoubtedly get old, if not for the fact that they’re so compositionally engaging. The band finally brings things down on the closer, “Slow Savage”, but, being the closer, there’s no way for it to play all that much into any sort of a soft loud dynamic. This doesn’t stop IDLES from trying to emulate the effects of this principle by maintaining Talbot’s animalistic deliveries over the gentle, piano driven piece, which actually works quite well at times to emphasize the emotion behind the lyrics, but is ultimately just slightly unsettling for the most part.

Brutalism is an album so loaded with standout tracks that very few tracks really stand out much against the rest. The opener, “Heel/Heal” is a catchy but callous display of fire that burns at the center of the band. “Well Done” is a simplistic banger revolving around a series of tongue and cheek call and response passages. “1049 Gotho”, is a lyrically cryptic track, but delivered none less of the conviction (Talbot seems to be running a emotional laboratory as he goes from being driven up the wall to being driven to edge of tears in a matter of words). “Stendhal Syndrome” is a radical change in pace: faster, harder, grimier… and so on. Every song has its own unique character so picking a favorite is more a matter of personal preference than observance of a drastic fluctuation in quality.

But above all else, these tracks are tied together by their (here comes the cliche) brutalism. The compressed grit and larger than life feel of the production would, in theory, cancel out each other’s merits, but, somehow, IDLES makes it work. Brutalism feels sounds clear and crisp without sacrificing that raw punk aesthetic, which makes for a captivatingly crude experience. Simply put, Brutalism exceeds and appeal to its title to deliver a perfectly crafted collection that’s all killer, no filler.