‘Loving violence’ of IDLES shines through on ‘CRAWLER’

Cover of the new IDLES album Crawler
Partisan Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0 

Believe it or not, U.K.-based post-punk outfit IDLES is already on its fourth full-length album. The group’s first, Brutalism, was released just four years ago, in 2017. Backed by frontman Joe Talbot’s signature stirring vocals, witty lyrics and the band’s brash but tight instrumentation, the band has had at least one major release out every year since. Its most recent release, CRAWLER, is a new peak amidst an excellent and daring run. 

IDLES’ last LP, Ultra Mono, was an explicitly politically charged, more poppy and refined sequel to the critically renowned Joy as an Act of Resistance. In contrast, CRAWLER is a confident transition into new territory marked by more musical variation and lyrical introspection. Here, the band maintains the signature raucous, fast energy of previous work, but also expertly pulls back when needed, making the moments of rage and commotion more daring and explosive. 

Talbot’s talent is impossible to ignore – in IDLES’ performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk, his face turns a light purple as he stomps across the camera’s field of view, pounding his chest, creating a vaguely threatening but primarily playful and warm enthusiasm. The band as a whole has a very wholesome Fellowship of the Ring, male kinship energy. Talbot’s vocals and live performance are continuous, steadily pounding jolts strong enough to back the band’s crusade against forces such as toxic masculinity, xenophobia and Western malaise –  IDLES sounds and feels like a whole army on the march. 

On CRAWLER, even Talbot’s whispers feel violent, as he builds tension through subtle vocal inflexion. More than any other vocalist in the post-punk scene, he knows when to pull back and when to get in your face, and his vocals transition between emotions with ease, adding nuance to the band’s songwriting. This includes variation in vocal delivery on tracks such as “Car Crash,” in which Talbot shifts from spoken word to a soft whimper unheard in the band’s previous work.

Indeed, the album has the most “singing” of any previously released work. This matches the vulnerable lyrical content, as Talbot delivers riskier vocal performances that express a wider variety of emotion and allow for wider instrumental variation – most evident on “Progress,” and “MTT 420 RR.” On “Progress,” Talbot’s vocals echo, and the song grounds the listener from the high of previous track “Meds.” The track firmly retracts Talbot’s tongue from the side of his cheeks, leaving him emotionally bare. By contrast, this makes moments, such as when Talbot screams “damage” on “The Beachland Ballroom,” land with more force. 

The guitar on “When the Lights Come On” helps create one of the more ethereal moments on the album, and Jon Beavis’ drums are an obvious highlight throughout the album. The bass on “The New Sensation” drive one of the more fun moments on the album, backing Talbot’s catchy lyrics as he yells, “Everybody stand up for a bit/ Get up on your feet and get down for a bit.”

CRAWLER demands to be blasted at a hazardous volume. The band is always visceral and raw, both lyrically and instrumentally, as it expertly builds tension to a natural breaking point the listener can feel coming. It’s introspection at its loudest, spewing the chaos of internal conflict, shame and healing. Tracks such as “Meds” and “The Wheel” feel like an intersection between the personal and the political, something Talbot does with adept expertise, allowing the band to avoid displays of ostentatiousness. This is combined with witty, self-deprecating lyrics present in tracks such as “King Snake,” which feels like a natural successor to “I’m Scum” off their second LP. 

IDLES is at its strongest when the violence of its instrumental and vocal performances are balanced by an uncanny and immediately recognizable degree of care and thoughtfulness in its lyrics and songwriting. Talbot has referred to this signature combination as forming a “loving violence.” On CRAWLER this combination is executed with more finesse than previous efforts. The result is an album that comes off as a work of genuine vulnerability, one that is part of a continuing discourse between the band and its audience. IDLES continues to convey the benefit of going through life with a little more noise and commotion. 

Contact Ryan McCullough at [email protected].