IDLES is a hardcore/post-punk band from Bristol, England. They burst onto the scene in 2015 with their second EP, Meat, followed soon after by Brutalism, the band’s first attempt at a full length LP. The album received universal acclaim from fans and critics alike, with many outlets, including yours truly, naming it as one of the best projects of the year.
IDLES is notable for their mixture of classic and post-punk elements. Instrumentally, they tend to write simple, driving tracks which often clash, ring, and generally dance around dissonant territory. Over this, the frontman, Joe Talbot crafts angry vocal performances. Using heavily politicized lyricism along with a raspy voice which he swings like a baseball bat, Talbot’s work is more in line with the birth of punk, than the post-punk tradition. This sound is, in any case, completely unique and exciting, which is precisely why the announcement of a forthcoming sophomore effort was so exciting, but I never could’ve guessed what a success Joy as an Act of Resistance would be.
It’s hard to know where to start on this one, but I suppose the drum work is as good a place as any. Jon Beavis is nothing short of fantastic behind the kit on this album. Take a listen to tracks like “Samaritans,” or “Great,” where his rhythms are quick, relentless, and powerful. The snares are very well mixed and his floor tom hits like a ton of bricks.
In addition, the guitar is hectic and violent. Mark Bowen spends the bulk of his time on the upper end of the neck and seems only vaguely aware of the tune being carried by the rest of the group. He complements this work by thrashing against it with constant dissonance which drives the record from one thought to another. Listen to the drone on the opener, “Colossus,” to get an idea of this.
Beyond this, the bass is consistently excellent as well! Adam Devonshire, a founding member of the group along with Talbot, lets of deep, rattling bass lines that add to the sense of tension in each instrumental. He does this extremely well on “Never Fight a Man With a Perm,” and “Television,” but this preference shows throughout the project, and is used to great effect each time.
All of this is banded together well by very unique and impressive production, which is no easy job on with a group like IDLES. Because of their penchant for clashing melodies and general tendency toward chaotic instrumentals, producing Joy as an Act of Resistance is a very difficult task, but just listen to tracks like “I’m Scum,” and you realize how this was undertaken. Rather than the traditional balance of rather flat instrumentals drown out by compressed vocals, IDLES chose to push the band to almost equal footing with Talbot’s voice, and with some excellent reverb and distortion on the guitar, the chaos is channeled perfectly through our speakers.
Without a doubt, however, it’s Joe Talbot’s performance as front-man which highlights this record in a very big way. Listen to his raw power on “Danny Nedelko,” or “Great,” hear his brutal crooning on “June.” This is all without mentioning his heart stopping scream of “I kissed a boy and I liked it,” on Samaritans as he rails against toxic masculinity. This point, of course, brings us to the other facet of Talbot’s incredible showing: his lyricism.
This may be one of the most impressive lyrical efforts in all of the punk music cannon. IDLES set their sites on masculinity and its many effects for the bulk of this album. They speak on emotional suppression, violence, xenophobia, alcoholism, loneliness, love, and the relationship between fear and hate among many other powerful topics in the relatively short runtime. This is not the kind of directionless rebellion we’ve come to expect from punk in recent years, but a focused attempt to frame every issue in the world through the lens of manhood and masculinity. It is, at times, self deprecating, and often relentless in its attacks against the very idea of manhood, but Talbot’s goal isn’t to destroy all men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. His goal is to strip away all the absurdity and negativity which has been tied to manliness and, in doing so, to find the true bedrock of what it means to be a man, and he largely succeeds.
This is usually the time when I’d speak to the few mistakes on this album but, genuinely, I couldn’t name one. It is catchy when it needs to be with tracks like my favorite, “Great,” gluing themselves into your head for days, but IDLES are deeply serious on this project, despite what their rebellious demeanor may suggest. Tracks like “Gram Rock,” and the closer, “Rotweiler,” aren’t singalongs, their musical attacks against very old and, they believe, very bad ideas of what manhood means. This album utilizes one of music’s most masculine genre’s to exam an extremely prescient issue to every man in the world. Its cohesive in a way that very few punk records are, its modern and important in a way that very few rock records are today, and it is moving and memorable in a way that very few records have ever been.
Joy as an Act of Resistance is an instant classic, Joy as an Act of Resistance is aggressively vulnerable, and Joy as an Act of Resistance is the first album, in my four years of reviewing, that I’ve ever seen fit to call perfect.
HEAR JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE: https://open.spotify.com/artist/75mafsNqNE1WSEVxIKuY5C