There’s a certain rush you get when you realize that you have just found an album that you know you’re gonna love from the very moment you play it the first time. The opening moments of Brutalism by UK punk band Idles features what appears to be a field recording of a crazed woman on the street shrieking “NO SURRENDER!”, followed by a completely brickwalled drum beat that kicks off a record that never really takes a breather. Sometimes it takes quite a few listens for a record to truly click with me. This album had me immediately. The oppressive barrage of album opener “Heel” actually got my adrenaline pumping as I walked down the street in the cold late winter weather.
To me this album has a strange balance of familiar punk ideas yet feels different from a lot of the artists the band seem to take inspiration from. I think any punk fan will draw a parallel between the aforementioned opening drum beat of “Heel” to the opening beat of “Janie Jones” by The Clash. Singer Joe Talbot’s slimy British inflection is also ripe with Strummerisms. But this band do not sound like The Clash, let me get that out of the way.
If I had to describe the overall sonic palette of Brutalism, I would compare it to the sound of firing up an industrial buzzsaw inside a narrow corridor with walls made of sheet metal. It’s actually pretty impressive the racket these guys are able to make on this album. The band sort of sound like they’re playing in an abandoned warehouse, with everything echoing off of everything else. The word “cavernous” comes to mind. The guitar tone borders on white noise at points, and just about everything, vocals included, are distorted.
But despite the slabs of noise the band lays down, the hooks on this album are top notch, and the whole thing is actually really catchy, with a lot of memorable lyrical hooks that I would imagine would make for great chant-alongs at an Idles gig. The sonic dreariness of the album is matched on the lyrical front. These men are not impressed with their peers, their politicians, or their world it seems. Just about every song on Brutalism is a charged invective against some shitty aspect of life.
The only spot on the whole record where the band take it down a notch is on the piano led closer “Slow Savage”. It’s placement on the album gives the conclusion an emotional weight that adds some context to the preceding onslaught. The track is a brutally nihilistic break up song, and Talbot’s shouting “I’m the worst lover you’ll ever have” over the extremely spare arrangement is truly soul-crushing. It’s almost as if the rage of the rest of the album stems from this character’s relationship problems, and suddenly the whole thing actually makes a lot of sense.
This is a fantastic album, especially for a debut. Idles are most definitely a band to keep an eye on, as they’ve made one of the best punk albums I’ve heard in several years. I’m really excited to see what these guys bring to the table in the future.