Partisan · November 12, 2021
2021 marks 10 years since British post-punk band IDLES released their first project, which was a self-titled EP in 2011. For the first several years of their existence, the band remained in relative obscurity, releasing EPs every few years up until their breakout debut album Brutalism in 2017. IDLES’ ascension to mainstream punk success makes sense if you consider the time at which they gained so much popularity – early 2017 marked the inauguration of American president Donald Trump and the first year in office for then-Prime Minister Theresa May. The band preaching feminism, working class politics, and loudly declaring “The best way to scare a Tory is to read or get rich” felt desperately needed by many, and seemed to dig into the ancient punk ethos while adding a modern flair to their sound.
The band’s sophomore album Joy As an Act of Resistance was even catchier and more popular than Brutalism, but signaled a slight departure from their music’s grittier punk atmosphere. While Joy As an Act of Resistance was a diverse array of anthems that succeeded in motivating their audience, its successor Ultra Mono was one of the more disappointing albums of 2020. Their social liberalism felt preachy rather than empowering, and they felt far removed from the pissed-off brand of rock that built their following.
CRAWLER is not necessarily as significant as the band’s first two albums, but definitely heals some of the ills from Ultra Mono. The band seems more focused than ever on developing a new sound, bringing in hip hop producer Kenny Beats and shifting towards a darker, more industrial atmosphere than their past albums. No song better exemplifies this than “Car Crash,” a muddled instrumental that complement’s lead vocalist Joe Talbot’s quasi-rapping for a couple verses before the song devolves into an utterly satisfying noisy whirlwind at its conclusion. The intro to the album “MTT 420 RR” also sounds unlike anything the band has done previously; though IDLES have recorded a handful of slow, bleak songs in the past, the first song on CRAWLER is unusually unnerving, largely in part to Talbot’s lyrics describing a near-fatal motorcycle accident: “The swell of heaven on my dashboard / I can see my spinal cord rip high / hey, hey, hey, it’s raining glass like a fever storm.”
Elsewhere, the band leans into the hardcore sound that launched their popularity back in 2017. “The Wheel” is perhaps the grimiest punk song in the band’s catalogue since Brutalism, with a pulsing bassline slicing through the heart of the song while Talbot cynically describes his mother falling deeper into alcoholism. Later on, they even attempt a classic 30-second hardcore interlude titled “Wizz.” Given that Talbot and the band are so naturally gifted at vintage punk styles, it’s refreshing to see them go back to their origins throughout CRAWLER.
Lead single “The Beachland Ballroom” serves as a fitting centerpiece for the album; its slow-building, swelling instrumental with Talbot’s snarky bellowing – “If you see me on my knees, please do not think that I pray” – is motivational and slightly extravagant, as IDLES’ best songs often are. Another classic IDLES tune can be found with the final song on the album, aptly titled “The End.” Slightly nihilistic, but exuding hope for better days, the track builds up to a chorus based on a Trotsky quote days before his impending assassination: “In spite of it all, life is beautiful / In spite of it all, life is beautiful.”
For all the album’s highlights, they struggle to sustain their fresh ideas throughout an entire album, with the quality deteriorating on the album’s latter half, including Talbot falling into a common trap throughout the last few years where he lazily bellows a single word repeatedly in place of a chorus on “Meds.” That being said, many of the issues from the group’s last album have been reduced or resolved, making their latest an undeniable step in the right direction. While IDLES’ window as the youthful, activist punk rock band may have closed a couple years ago, they prove on CRAWLER that the band’s musical innovation and Talbot’s poetic lyricism ensure that IDLES is still one of the most important names in modern punk music.