Album Review: IDLES – TANGK

4/5

If IDLES’ discography is a 24-hour period, TANGK—the band’s fifth album, out today via Partisan Records—is 2 a.m., the hour when you either make your way to the afterparty to continue the thrill of this night or find yourself in the back of a cab heading home, awash in that particular rapture of when tonight becomes yesterday and the arriving sunrise heralds how tomorrow is now today.

TANGK is potential realized; the group succeeds here after first attempting to balance their brutality and sensitivity on 2021’s Crawler. That album marked a critical pivot in IDLES’ sound; after achieving peak severity of their 2020’s Ultra Mono, an album so ‘in the red’ in volume and intensity, the group had no choice but to take it down a notch, lest they become a caricature of the passion and aggression.

Crawler featured vocalist Joe Talbot adopting more melody and softness in his singing, as the rest of the group—guitarist/electronics maestro Mark Bowen, bassist Adam Devonshire, rhythm guitarist Lee Kiernan, and drummer Jon Beavis—gave themselves room to breathe instead of going at it like a freight train on every track. The results were mixed, with the band noting in recent interviews that Crawler feels “unfinished,” and it is more of a learning experience than a fully-formed vision.

So, two years later, IDLES has taken those lessons and avoided the post-punk pitfalls that snared them on Crawler to create a refined and cohesive album, an artful equilibrium between thunder and silence. IDLES retains its distinctive viewpoint of love-as-defiance, best embodied in “Grace,” TANGK’s most heartfelt, soulful (and playlist-ready) song.

The band’s signature audacious swagger hasn’t diminished in this new sound; it thrives on tracks “Gift Horse,” “Jungle,” “Hall & Oates,” and “Dancer,” the latter featuring vocals from James Murphy and Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem.

TANGK, the title an onomatopoeia for “the lashing way (Talbot) imagined the guitars sounding that has grown into a sort of sigil for living in love,” benefited from Nigel Godrich, the renowned producer known for his work with Radiohead. Godrich joined Kenny Beats and IDLES’ Mark Bowen in producing TANGK, and his work has proven to be the missing ingredient in the recipe Beats and Bowne began on Crawler.

This new album’s polish might ward off those wanting a return to the band’s high point, Love as an Act of Resistance. It might not be for everyone. Plus, there are elements on TANGK that elicit the dreaded “c-word;” the album opens with Talbot singing against a twinkling piano, which comes dangerously close to Coldplay territory.

Though Talbot’s weathered and wearied Welsh timbre is not as airy as Chris Martin’s Exeter accent, the comparison is unavoidable. So much so that the band seemed to get ahead of them with the video for “Grace.”

Released days before TANGK hit streaming services, the video takes a clip from Coldplay’s breakthrough hit video, “Yellow,” and deepfakes a youthful Chris Martin into singing the new IDLES track. The idea came to Talbot in a dream, and Martin not only approved of using the clip but also helped train the AI to be more accurate.

It’s brilliant. IDLES has taken the piss out of any detractors who might sneer and accuse them of being “mellow,” showing off their brash humor and creativity as they walk into the sunrise of this new day. 

TANGK is available in IDLES’ online store. Follow IDLES on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Threads for future updates.

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