IDLES is one of those bands I wish I’d come across sooner. While they’ve been around for more than a decade, the first time the Bristol-based quintet really began to capture hearts and minds across the Atlantic was three years ago with their sophomore LP Joy as an Act of Resistance. And although that’s when they were starting to slowly pick up steam here in the States, they didn’t cross my radar until two years after that, at the very tail end of 2020, when “Grounds” from their third studio album Ultra Mono happened upon my Discover Weekly playlist. In the year or so since then, the British post-punk rockers have become firmly planted in the forefront of my own mind, thanks to their often-noisy sonic nature and frontman Joe Talbot’s ever-willingness to tackle difficult issues lyrically. The band’s newest full-length offering, CRAWLER, not only embodies all of this, but it also serves as an uplifting reminder that you are never alone, no matter what you’ve been through.
CRAWLER is intensely dynamic and dynamically intense, not to mention brooding, and even ominous at certain points as well. This is perhaps best exemplified in the soft, haunting album opener “MTT 420 RR,” which reflects on a motorcycle crash that could have easily killed Talbot and the circumstances surrounding it. Here, his baritone voice croons in a manner similar to Mark Lanegan, all while over top of this low musical growl that builds and builds and builds, though never quite reaching its peak. Instead, the outro is both a question and a warning, with the repeated line “Are you ready for the storm?”
Of course, the ensuing “storm” in this case is the album itself, and more precisely, its instrumentation, which roars, drives, and grooves, somehow equally noisy as it is melodic. Whether it comes in the form of noisier tunes with nodes of melody, like on the searing nature of “The Wheel” (“Can I get a hallelujah?”), the chaotic roar of “The New Sensation,” or the frenzied “Meds;” more melodious cuts with hints of disorder such as opener “MTT 420 RR” and the echoing “Progress;” or tracks which prominently feature both ends of the spectrum simultaneously, like “When the Lights Come On,” the killer 1-2 combo of “The Beachland Ballroom” and “Crawl!” back to back, or “The End;” one thing rampant throughout the entirety of CRAWLER is this steady give-and-take, which at points feels like a tug of war of sorts, always keeping the listener on their toes.
Thematically, CRAWLER traverses many of today’s social problems, touching on everything from alcoholism and drug abuse, a recurring theme over the course of the record, to the jeopardization of the arts on “The New Sensation,” to coming back from trauma on album highlight and shoe-in song of the year contender “The Beachland Ballroom.” Vulnerable as ever, there’s this constant sense of transparency throughout which allows the listener to peer into the lives of the artist behind what they’re experiencing. We see this early and often on CRAWLER, from the storytelling opener, to the rambunctious “Car Crash,” all the way through to the cathartic closer. IDLES is perhaps at their best, however, when juxtaposing musical canvas with a contrasting word painting, like on the musically beautiful yet lyrically depressing “Progress,” or the wild yet tear-jerking closer. (After all, “in spite of it all, life is beautiful.”)
The more I listen to CRAWLER, the more I am overcome with this overwhelming state of euphoria. Not only do I feel like I’m a part of each story as it unfolds, but when I step back and consider the album from a macroscopic perspective, I have an extremely difficult time finding another record released this year with a greater impact. Much like its highlight lead single “The Beachland Ballroom,” which perhaps best encompasses its overall theme, CRAWLER is all about coming back from life’s hardships, and, in the words of Joe Talbot himself, “reclaim[ing] joy from those experiences.” It is the album and the message that we all need to hear in 2021 as we try to adjust our lives to a new normal. Indeed, there really is no release that better epitomizes this year than CRAWLER.
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