Ultra Mono has been released into a universe far removed from when IDLES released the acclaimed Joy as an Act of Resistance (our record of the year in 2018). As the world around them has plunged further into chaos, the Bristol band have gone and produced a record which tackles this frenzied climate head on.
In the process of creating Ultra Mono, their third studio album, IDLES’ fanbase has grown exponentially, and the band have found hatred come hurling towards at them from all angles. Despite this, the band have shown no signs of caving in. In fact during the promotion cycle of this album, Joe Talbot and co, have seemed completely unfazed by any external comments.
In the lead up to the record’s release, the band said that Ultra Mono will be the most “IDLES-sounding album” they had ever released. It has certainly lived it up to that statement, although for this, their third release, IDLES have opted to be more politically transparent and sonically more accessible. This is encapsulated in the album artwork – it is a whopping smack around the chops, an unavoidable IDLES assault. Love them, or hate them it is hard to deny that Ultra Mono has been a defining UK release during this pandemic.
‘Mr. Motivator’, the first single to be heard from the album gave a solid impression of this go-big-or-go-home approach to the record. Released in May – at the height of lockdown anxiety, the alternative cardio burning anthem with its ‘motivational video’ was the mood lifter we all needed. The video features fans, the band, and members of the AF Gang working out to the track in an array of silly costumes.
‘Mr. Motivator’ laid the perfect foundation of what we had to expect from the album. Naturally the record has been criticised for its lack of writing prowess and for featuring too many clichés. However Talbot had already resigned to this criticism long before the reviews came in. “How do you like them clichés?” he sings on the track. Life and rage doesn’t have to be complex – and Talbot was determined from the get-go to make Ultra Mono a no bullshit record, no matter the response.
Album opener, ‘War’, is the unreleased gem; an explosive, unrelenting fire starter. The track’s only let up is when Talbot comes in with the lyrics for the first verse. The track blisters at a full throttle, not wasting time with acceleration.
Talbot and the rest of the band are known for opening up about personal struggles, and for looking to change the conversations surrounding mental health. ‘Anxiety’ with its brutal honesty and clarity, is a brilliant testament to their endeavour to never skirt around the truth of this topic. It will not win any awards for literary content but it connects on a universal level.
When they announced their collaborations for the album, the addition of Jamie Cullum on the track ‘Kill Them With Kindness’, naturally raised eyebrows. Cullum though, is a true champion of UK music and so naturally a massive IDLES fan. Having bumped into the band at The Mercury Awards in 2019 he offered his hand to play piano, an offer soon taken up by the band. The tinkering keys are a cunning intro, to the otherwise turbulent track.
Then there is the appearance of Savages’ Jehnny Beth on ‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’, one of the strongest and more elegant songs on the album. IDLES are calling out the toxic masculinity and inappropriate behaviour shown towards women at gigs. “CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT,” they both scream in the chorus. The band are not only screaming for change, but they are actively taking measures to bring forward change through actions like ensuring their 2021 support acts are all female.
A stand out track on the album is ‘Reigns’ which takes a pop at the absurdity of a society where money and opportunity go hand-in-hand. Underpinning the track is Adam Devonshire’s bassline that will test every venue’s foundations when they play live.
YouTube hosted a premier of Ultra Mono at 9pm on the day of the album’s release. As many as sixteen countries were represented in the chat at any one point, which shows how IDLES have amassed an ever-growing fanbase. An appeal won because the band speak a language, often lost by the supercilious aficionados of the avant-garde music landscape. The stiff-necked music snobs.
Ultra Mono is an album that many enraged humans have been crying out for in 2020. Not only an energy outlet, but a record which shouts along with them. A rallying cry for change.