For Fans Of
Like most white people, I’m a big fan of post-punk revival. The Strokes, Iceage, Shame, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Algiers – all that good shit. Even so, IDLES threw me off because their style is undoubtedly post-punk, but it draws a great deal more from the ‘punk’ side of the genre than anything else. IDLES’s latest record, August’s ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’, definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means for post-punk in the current age. Yet it’s just a really fucking good distillation of everything there is to love about the anger and noise of punk music, alongside the joy in the petty and spiteful pushback against a litany of arseholes that have gained prominence recently. (Insert your own respective country’s dip-shit leader here).
Musically, ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ is hardly a game-changer, but each song has something to offer in terms of surprises. The album’s opener, ‘Colossus’, is fantastic; featuring prominent bass work and pounding, rhythmic drums that build to a great climax as vocalist Joe Talbot’s singing gets louder and louder and even more passionate as the piece flows onward. It’s exciting, engaging stuff, and is indicative toward so much of this record’s quality. ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’ is another great track, leaning heavily on simple but effective guitar riffs that sound as tense and aggressive as the actual lyrics, but more on that later. Like ‘Colossus’, the album’s closer ‘Rottweiler’ is just a wicked listen all-round. Especially the outro, as it eventually breaks down to Joe yelling random shit and demanding that the rest of IDLES keep playing as the music gets more disjointed and cacophonous. It reminded me of a Swans gig, where Michael Gira spends a lot of his time either yelling the lyrics or just yelling at the crowd or his bandmates.
All of this definitely wouldn’t be enough to make me love this album as much as I do (though it wouldn’t be too far off). So it’s a damn good thing that ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance‘ is full of great topics; taking down a variety of social and political targets in nearly every song. ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’, which I’m mentioning again because it’s my favourite song on the album, is a more general character takedown of dudes who are only interested in “Brylcreem, creatine, and a bag of Charlie Sheen”. Literally hair products, protein powder, and cocaine. The song is definitely funnier than the album’s fellow material, as it describes, at quite some length, that these dudes are basically one giant muscle and no brain. It’s even better if, like me, you know dudes who are exactly like this IRL.
‘Samaritans’ is lyrically noteworthy as well, as its topic is the dreaded “toxic masculinity”. Which is kind of like the Bechdel Test or Jordan Peterson’s favourite boogeyman, postmodernism, in the sense that people talk shit about the topic without really knowing what it is. The song aims its sights specifically at how toxic masculinity affects men, and the ways that we talk to each other; how many males misguidingly telling one another to not be “pussies” or to “man up”; to not complain about anything at all because that would totally mean that we drink soy milk, secretly love cock, and are a “snowflake”, or some other bollocks. As a guy who only cries when he’s either very drunk or when listening to the “sadcore” part of Youtube (Giles Corey’s ‘No One is Ever Going to Want Me’ emotionally ruins me if you must know), this track really struck me. And I’m not too much of a “man” to admit that, either.
However, not every single song here is a show-stopper. While every song is exciting and I certainly wouldn’t call any of them boring or bad, there are some slumps to be had in the tracklist. For instance, ‘I’m Scum’ leaves me wanting, in the musical department at least. The same goes for the song ‘June’, which only consists of a couple of verses, and risks building up toward something totally wonderful in the space between said verses. I think there’s even some whistling in there, as well as the band’s typical gritty and heavy guitars, and I just really wished IDLES had elaborated more upon that song’s ending. But they didn’t, and that’s a real bummer.
Unfortunately, just like the music, not every song is a total winner in the lyric department either. I hate to rag on ‘June’ any more than I already have because by describing a stillbirth, it’s the most overtly personal song of the entire album. Yet I do take issue with the second half. The second verse repeats the famous six-word Hemingway short story that everyone knows (“Baby shoes: for sale; never worn“). And as much as I love a good Hemingway reference, referring to that short story so explicitly in this song drew me right out of the track and took away the short story’s subtlety at the same time. IDLES, I’m unsure how you managed to bum me out while ruining Hemingway and your own extremely personal song, but good job on multitasking, I guess?
‘Love Song’ is another one that could’ve been more developed. Honestly, at this point, I’m sick of criticisms of modern love and relationships that don’t dig any deeper than yelling “consumerism” and pointing at the nearest romantic comedy like that’s supposed to win you “woke af” points. This song ends on the line “You give me power/you’re like a gun or a knife, be my wife”, and I would’ve loved for the song if it had started from that exact position and gone further. Rather than wallowing in the kinds of shallow, pessimistic moping that I did when I was an angsty teenager and thought that everything was bullshit because I was an uninformed little dickhead.
Of course, none of this is to say that these songs are bad. Because even if they deserve some criticism, they’re all still good; it’s still a good experience. Even the songs I didn’t mention, like ‘Danny Nedelko’, ‘Television’, ‘Gram Rock’, and ‘Cry To Me’, are still fun to listen to, they just simply didn’t draw as much of my attention like others here have. And these weaker parts of ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance‘ didn’t make me give up on the record or give up on doing this review either. Because giving up is exactly the kind of mentality that IDLES are railing against here.
Me ending this IDLES review isn’t giving up: I just have a lot of shit to do and simply not enough time to do it in. The main point you should take away from this piece is that you should totally listen to ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ ASAP. Whether it be for the great music or the (at times) really well-written and insightful lyrics, every song is worth your undivided attention in its own specific way. Personally, I really do hope that we see another major post-punk shift with this latest crop of bands leaning on the harder, darker, and ‘punk’ side of the genre. If the results can be as solid as ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’, then we’re all in for a treat!
2. Never Fight A Man With A Perm
3. I’m Scum 03:09 4. Danny Nedelko
5. Love Song
10. Gram Rock
11. Cry To Me
‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ is out now!