In 2017 Idles shared Brutalism, an album that was as bright as it was bold and confrontational. There was a caustic, explosive quality to that bunch of songs. It crossed the lines laid down by genre police, and made good on the promise of very tasty, early EPs. It was an essential listen for anyone paying attention to the state of the world. It was collection of songs that found the right sounds and words, and delivered them at an appropriate, blistering volume to articulate the disbelief that many listeners felt when moving through the world. Now it’s 2018, and Idles adopt a new approach – Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
From album opener ‘Colossus’, the devices of tension and release are deployed. Fuzzed bass tones and crunched guitars are a signature sound of Idles, and here they are. A suspenseful tempo is played out in rim-shots. Singer Joe Talbot approaches the microphone as both confessional and broadcasting megaphone, calling like-minded folk to the battle. Personal experiences are expressed as through the endurance of physical afflictions; we dance all night with shin splints. The universal experience is one that ties us to the influence, and perhaps corruption of the older generation. “I am my father’s son / his shadow weighs a ton”. Idles duck and weave, fighting expectations placed on them. From the outset they establish continuity of tone; their world view remains consistent with Brutalism. However, they’re keen to move into the now. Being in the now we need to drop old habits, and stop blaming hereditary assumptions. This opening track builds in weight, in depth, and in strength. The musicianship is tight, and the spontaneity that is contrived by other bands is captured here. This album is not here to fuck about.
Concepts of vulnerability, community, human migration and connection, are all key to this album. The sense of unity that Idles crave from personal interactions is seen as a political situation. We’re surrounded by uncertainty, distrust, confusion, and fake news. The real news is bad enough. Fear governs where compassion should control, and so Idles demand an opening of themselves. In laying themselves bare, and offering their soft underbelly they encourage others to do the same, and to build community. Y’know the excuse for never disarming; “We won’t put our warheads down first, or we’ll be open to attack.”? Well, Idles don’t buy into that bullshit. They disarm, not in surrender but in a show of bizarre strength. They drop the faux-machismo of rock, and then rock harder like real men, unafraid of the sensitive center. Trust, compassion, mutual respect is established.
There’s a deep sadness in this album. Futility of the human condition is addressed, but not subscribed too. One of the most heart-wrenching sentences in the English language is used in the track ‘June’. “Baby shoes for sale, never worn” draws on the intelligence, and imagination of the listener to do some work. Go here, to the truly desperate, melancholic moments with Idles, and on the other side is a strange comfort. A bruised togetherness. Following this track is ‘Samaritans’ – offered as tribute to the UK mental health charity, who provide a twenty-four hour support line. The appraisal of toxic masculinity, “The mask is wearing me.” will make some listeners uneasy in their seats. The song is a solid display of where real strength lies.
In support of the Samaritans, Idles commissioned work from a number of artists. Paintings were produced in response to each of the twelve tracks of the album. An exhibition of the work coincides with release date for the album. Proceeds from art sales are being handed to the charity. Idles didn’t need to do this kind of thing, but they did. They’re certainly not the first band to offer support to a charity, but maybe their band is better than yours. Look at this video, it’s good.
Someone once said something along the lines of ‘Opposition to the spectacle can only produce the spectacle of opposition’. Idles know that creativity is essential to resist current political regimes. Oppressive forces know how to subjugate the masses. Protests are met with counter protest, cops who enjoy a brawl, and a mainstream media that often directs it’s cameras elsewhere. This album is also populated with incredible details and reactions to the behaviors prescribed by others. Idles open their hearts, and appeal to yours. Across this sequence of tracks the band assume responsibility for themselves. Aware that in order to balance the outer wars they most combat the inner demons, they get to work. Through heart-churning honesty they dismantle their own secrets, disrupt their own egos, and present the naked center. The only answer to oppression is joyful self-confidence.
Joy As An Act Of Resistance is not only an essential album for fans of punk, or post punk, or whatever you want to call it. This is a collection that demands other artists also level up. Idles have arrived at an album that reaches back into the culture that shaped it. Lyrically dense, emotionally honest, angry, beautiful, generous, and surreal at times. All the markings of a classic. And, oops-a-daisy, it fucking rocks. It doesn’t get much better than this.
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