Bone and Blood: Idles – Brutalism

My faith in music is very transient. While there are plenty of euphoric moments, more often than not those quickly fade into memory, leaving my enthusiasm to stutter and calcify. This is followed by a long, slow fall into silent apathy, where I struggle to ignite excitement for anything musical, regardless of genre or age. These are bleak periods, ashen fucking wastes of dry cardboard and inane radio chatter. I stumble through these spells, hoping to find a new sound, something urgent and mentally violent, a blazing neon star that will shatter my pitiful reverie and wake me the fuck up. Several albums have done this for me in the past but few with the same degree of emotion and propulsion as Brutalism.

Image result for brutalism idles

I don’t maintain a social media presence (unless blogging to an audience of ten counts) and as such, tend to be several months behind albums that have already blown up and been devoured by the public hordes. I’m the lazy vulture, waddling over to the carcass after even the maggots have had their fill, slurping up whatever grease and sinew remains. Such is the case for the debut album from Idles, released last March to near universal acclaim that has already got them on a label and a sold-out set of North American shows (The current sold-out Toronto show is at Hard Luck, which makes sense for a band this size. However, the show was originally booked at the Smiling Buddha – a tiny venue that usually hosts locals. Whoever booked it there was either insane or a genius). With no background, no predispositions from the hype-machine in my subconscious, this album came crashing down on me like a tonne of liquid concrete.

It is hard for me to write about this album as I can’t even begin to approach it objectively. After about four spins in 24 hours this album has completely brushed my defences aside, it reached out and grabbed my trembling hands, filled them with broken glass and squeezed. This album is a bloody, chest-beating, tearful detox, an electric howling of pent-up emotion and clattering noise. It is a legitimately fresh assault on a stagnating genre, placing Idles in a place populated with few other bands (Whores, METZ, Plaque Marks).

This is punk by the way of myriad influence – not just a standard tooth-cutting on legends and contemporaries but a much more twisted path through unusual genres and violent times. Traditions were meant to be spat upon, ground up and used for fertilizer, providing a steaming quagmire to nurture poisonous new roots. This album is as stripped back and forceful as the concrete monoliths it’s named after, using few elements but given twice the weight, leaning on staccato drums and primitive bass. Water, gravel, sand, cement.

With such brawny instrumental minimalism, the vocals are forced to the forefront, taking place as an instrument in their own right, instead of the usual barking tirade. Idles have the rare distinction of having a vocalist with the most important skill – not technical proficiency or operatic range but the ability to commute genuine emotion and energy with every harsh word. The vocals on this album have range sure, but not in notes so much as in dramatic inflection. It’s something that can only be conveyed with clean vocals, as it’s hard to add a twist to your lyrics if your larynx is already twisted in knots with a death growl. The man charges from sneering insolence, broken sobbing and caustic sarcasm, usually in the same breath (“I pissed in the kitchen sink/as she slowly undressed”). Punk vocalists traditionally convey the standard emotions of the genre; rage, pain, indignation but few manage the complete spoken dominance of language like Idles do.

This album is just so fucking alive. It’s a goddamn needle through the sternum, a firm slap to the face and rough shaking of cobwebs. Never before have times been so twisted, intermingled lines smudging together under the tremendous pressure produced by centuries of civilized development. Brutalism is the turbulence of today spit back in your face, a foul-smelling rain of antagonistic spittle that dares you to straighten your spine and take a swing. At what? You choose.


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