‘Undisputed Champions of Modern Rock’: A Review of IDLES’ Ultra Mono


IDLES have gone above and beyond to deliver Ultra Mono

  • 5/5

Bristol’s IDLES have worked hard to get to where they are today. The fame and acclaim that they’ve gathered was a slow-burner that took years of gigging and dedication before they captured the heart of a punk fans new and old all across the world. Now, as they release their third LP Ultra Mono, they stand as one of the most in-demand rock bands in the scene, with gig tickets selling out in the blink of an eye and critics who are unable to fault them. Ultra Mono is yet further proof that they are the undisputed champions of modern rock.

This isn’t just Joy As An Act of Resistance part two. Where ‘Colossus’ started off their second album slowly, building up to a explosion of sound, ‘War’ is straight in there with its onomatopoeia-laden lyrics which celebrate good old noisy punk in a straightforward way.

With the band steadily dropping singles since the spring, we’ve already heard a number of tracks from the album. Although some fans complained that it spoiled the album experience, it gave us a great idea of what to expect.

‘Grounds’ was not the first single released (an honour given to lockdown necessity ‘Mr Motivator’) but sounds like the true lead single of the album. The guitars are more experimental, bordering on electronic. It has the classic angrily progressive lyrics that we expect from the band and boasts a certain musical progression in their sound. This track features contributions from none other than Bad Seed Warren Ellis, a sign in itself that IDLES are a big name in the alternative music world.

‘Mr Motivator’ isn’t the most impressive track on Ultra Mono, but its tongue-in-cheek, half-sarcastic similes are irresistible and is, undeniably, a motivator. “Like Kathleen Hanna [of 90s riot grrrl punk outfit Bikini Kill]with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy” might be among their best lyrics yet, just for the sheer conviction of the line.

‘Anxiety’, even with its good points, feels just a little too similar to what we’ve heard from IDLES before. Even here, though, the brilliant production of the album shines through.  ‘Model Village’ is a personal best for IDLES, with the same experimental kind of guitars set up in ‘Grounds’ with impeccable drumming which goes expressly with the relentlessness of the lyrics. It’s the most musically pleasing song to listen to on the album with lyrics that speak to anyone who’s lived in a small village at an alarming volume. “Model car model wife model village / Model far model right model village” is a pounding mantra that twists and turns throughout the song and might be among their finest work. The band are an unstoppable force on this track, and ‘Model Village’ has the innate power to make you feel the same way.

‘Reigns’ is one of the heavier tracks on Ultra Mono (though with IDLES, heaviness is always part of the package). It’s a fierce rallying cry against the oppression of the working class. Like Joy’s ‘Great’, it puts an unfiltered view of British society firmly in the spotlight. With too many artists hiding their political stances behind metaphor, it’s always refreshing to hear an album like Ultra Mono taking a stand above all else.

Just when you think that Ultra Mono isn’t going to deal out anything too surprises, a piano appears as if by magic on ‘Kill Them With Kindness’. Don’t fret, the gentle opening only intensifies the screaming, almost metal guitars which make their triumphant return after a short moment. This is going to be an unexpected live gem with frontman Joe Talbot screeching into the mic. There’s a real spontaneity to this song, which could well take on a different form when it is performed on stage.

The fans were right about constant singles having an impact on the album experience. While the tracks were great indicators of what Ultra Mono would look like, ‘Model Village’ is irrefutable proof of a song taking on even more life and energy when enjoyed as part of something bigger.

‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’ is a collaboration with Jehnny Beth. Even though the French is incorrect (which, granted, they are open about), it’s a starkly honest song, though it might not be a favourite for many listeners. While it might seem that yelling “consent” in a song about consent might be too on the nose, the fact is that we don’t hear enough songs about respecting personal space, and I think we’re ready for some more heavy rock rage directed at the catcallers of the world.

Many are quick to pigeonhole IDLES as an ‘angry band’ and nothing more, but ‘The Lover’ is yet another refreshing reminder of their confident attitude in the face of criticism. Going through every bad review they’ve ever gotten, Joe Talbot shoots them down without coming across as bitter. ‘The Lover’ has truly mastered the art of not giving a damn.

‘A Hymn’ is a more melancholy approach to their sound, a moment of quiet reflection before album closer ‘Danke’: the high-energy finale that Ultra Mono deserves. You can hear the passion in every part, every instrument, every line as the album comes to a glorious close.

There is no chance of Ultra Mono disappointing die-hard fans of the band, and at the same time is sure to lead a new generation of listeners to the loving community that is IDLES. It’s one of those rare cases where an album goes above and beyond to exceed expectation. Well done, boys.

Ultra Mono is available to listen to now via Partisan Records. Check out ‘Model Village’ down below.


About Author

Records Editor 2019/2020. Second year French and Spanish student. Always going through some kind of music-based phase, frequently crying about The Cure.

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