Ultra Mono, the third full-length record from the U.K.’s noisy punk group IDLES, is an invigoratingly fun and emotionally resonant listen.
On the album, IDLES present what at this point might be considered their trademark sound, but by virtue of the sheer power of the energy and the musical chops underlining the uniquely poignant songs, the listening experience feels fresh. Across the record, the bass lines, drum rhythms, and more pretty much always feel rich.
They’ve got plenty of texture here, although many of the sonic diversions are united by a kind of anthemic vibe, which is boosted in part by the aggressive yet upbeat and energetic vocals from IDLES frontman Joe Talbot. For instance “War,” which opens Ultra Mono, is an aggressively clanging cacophony of sound, although it’s not overly chaotic. Here and elsewhere, the band consistently stick to their melodies, as if unfurling a huge, waving kite and then drawing it back down to earth.
“Grounds” is slightly more restrained, like the central perspective of the album has temporarily wound down to a stagger through a dingy dive bar, but energy quickly returns as the album proceeds through follow-up track “Mr. Motivator” and beyond.
The band shift between corners a lot throughout their work. There’s a consistently churning sense as if they’re leaping from one side of the sonic spectrum to the other and back again. Listening to the album feels like leaping right along with the band.
There’s definitely some edge in the band’s tones, and they sound crisp enough to make their melodies and the energy delivering them really leave a mark. Sometimes, like on “Kill Them With Kindness” and “Reigns,” the smacks of groove themselves get intense enough to feel percussive, with staggered, repeated rhythms. In the case of “Reigns,” a sense of cynical exasperation pervades.
The band sound remarkably adept at musically capturing sonic and emotional snapshots of the tumble through the chaos of modernity, and as time goes on, the catharsis that’s in these songs doesn’t feel as though it’s exactly getting any less relevant or meaningful. In the world outside, chaos is continuing—but the music of IDLES feels like a light amidst the foggy haze covering the metaphorical road ahead.
Thanks to the reliably boisterous energy coursing through Ultra Mono, there’s also an undercurrent of finding a way to dance through some of the turmoil while pushing for an equitable path forward.