Just over a year since its last release, Bristol quintet IDLES returns with another sonic assault. Crawler picks up where last year’s Ultra Mono left off, with fourteen tracks of aggressive, politically charged rock music.
At its best, IDLES melds punk ferocity with the experimentation and noise of alternative and post-punk into an interesting and pulse-pounding concoction. At its worst, the band is dragged down by sub-par lyrics, political posturing, and repetition. Crawler has plenty of both, but with enough high points to please anyone that can look past its shortcomings.
The album starts slow with “MTT 420 RR,” a pulsing synthesizer backing Joe Talbot’s soft croon as he uses gruesome imagery to describe a violent car crash. “He lost control; he was de-gloved,” he sings amid creepy buzzing strings. The ominous song slowly builds in intensity to its denouement, with Talbot repeating the vague political question, “Are you ready for the storm?”
Inspired by Talbot’s recent harrowing experience behind the wheel, it’s not the only song on the album about a car crash. “Cold goes to warm as my top gets blood damp,” Talbot shouts in “Car Crash,” his vocals echoing over Adam Devonshire’s intense rumbling bassline. “I can feel the raw flesh on the bottom of the footwell floor.” The thumping bass evokes darkness and pain, eventually culminating in an industrial-influenced explosion of distortion and screeching noise.
Lee Kiernan’s droning, down-tuned guitar anchor “The Wheel” as Talbot growls a general message of discontent. “I put up a poster saying, ‘where’s my dog, my friends, my family, my job?’” Talbot shouts. The song’s chorus is a bludgeon, with Kiernan banging a single crunching note as Talbot keeps yelling, “Can I get a hallelujah?”
A propulsive beat and discordant guitars make “The New Sensation” ironically catchy for a song that mocks pop hits with dance floor appeal. The song shows IDLES having fun, something that should be done more often.
“The Beachland Ballroom” stands out by showing IDLES’ softer side. An ode to a popular Cleveland club, the song is a slow waltz. Talbot sings of finding his way through tough times. “I was on my knees for days,” he sings. Midway through the song, pounding drums and heavy guitars burst through while Talbot shifts from soulful singing to his throaty growl. “If you see me down on my knees, please do not think that I pray,” he yells.
Crawler feels like a more personal album, with less sloganeering than previous IDLES releases. Talbot’s monotone voice and underwhelming lyrics are still the band’s weakness, but band’s attack mixing heaviness with anxiety-inducing dissonance keep things interesting.
Photo by Tom Ham