Rock band IDLES are back with Ultra Mono, an effective project that solidifies and expands their positive punk ethos. Their first project since 2018’s fantastic Joy as an Act of Resistance, Ultra Mono reveals the Bristol, UK rock band in their most straightforward form.
Before covering the album’s contents, it’s important to acknowledge what the album isn’t. Ultra Mono doesn’t have the same bone-chilling catharsis nor the tension-building heard on their previous efforts, Joy… and Brutalism. There is no epic escalation in suspense like on Joy…’s “Colossus”. That’s not to say there’s no energy on Ultra Mono – the album radiates energy, actually.
This time around, their display is quite different, and they express their vigor differently. Instead of relying on building up instrumentation gradually into a chilling climax, the songs on Ultra Mono are raw power from beginning to end. Turbulent drums and gnarly power chords consume the entire record, as well as frontman Joe Talbot’s gritty vocals and witty lyrics which are a staple of IDLES’ sound.
The songs on Ultra Mono march into listeners’ ears with the aid of a more dynamic production style than on their previous efforts, thanks to guests like famed hip-hop producer Kenny Beats. The screeches from the guitars have added depth, and songs like “Grounds” are touched with textured, gravelly synths and distortion. However, there are few moments on the album of delicacy and silence, like in the beginning of the track “Kill Them With Kindness”, which starts with a twinkling, polished piano; this oddball moment satisfyingly juxtaposes from the sudden transition into the song, where guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, along with drummer Jon Beavis, go all in behind Talbot’s snarling vocals. “Arf! Arf arf arf arf! Says the puppy to the snake!”
Ultra Mono shows Talbot at his most humorous. Of course, the chorus of “Kill Them With Kindness”, and the song’s title, correlate with the group’s positive punk energy. Even on “The Lover”, which many believe is a diss track aimed at Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williams (who accused IDLES of appropriating their working class aesthetics), Talbot remains self-assured and self-loving without feeding into the negativity. “You say you don’t like my clichés / Our sloganeering and our catchphrase / I say love is like a freeway, and / Fuck you, I’m a lover”. The song storms to a finish with a glorious refrain, “I want to cater for the haters / eat shit!”
The album closes with the thunderous “Danke”. Talbot ties the album’s themes together lyrically, referencing the great, late Daniel Johnston. “True love will find you in the end / You will find out just who was your friend!” The last lyric on the album’s closer is “I am I”, a repeating lyric that first occurs on the album’s second track, “Grounds”. The lyric sums up the theme of the album: in order to initiate and advocate for change for the better, you have to know yourself and believe in yourself.
Best Tracks: “War,” “Grounds,” “Model Village,” “Reigns,” “Danke”
Article By: AJ Frigoletto