MU­SIC IDLES’ anger is oddly up­lift­ing

The Georgia Straight - - Music - By

Mike Usinger

ogis­ti­cally it doesn’t make a lot of sense: a revved-up post-ev­ery­thing punk unit tack­ling racism, self-loathing, male tox­i­c­ity, al­co­holism, and other heavy is­sues in a way that man­ages to be up­lift­ing.

But that’s ex­actly what Eng­land’s IDLES do on Joy as an Act of Re­sis­tance, a record that, for all its pal­pa­ble rage and jus­ti­fied anger, takes the po­si­tion that maybe the world isn’t as fucked as it seems.

Reached at an At­lanta ho­tel at the be­gin­ning of a North Amer­i­can tour, thought­ful and elo­quent singer Joe Tal­bot has no prob­lem ar­tic­u­lat­ing the think­ing be­hind the quar­tet’s se­cond full-length, re­leased in late Au­gust. Af­ter years of be­ing an­gry and afraid to open up to those around him, the front­man be­gan to won­der if maybe there wasn’t a bet­ter way. The first step was ther­apy.

“Re­ally early on in coun­selling, the idea of lone­li­ness came up,” Tal­bot ex­plains. “My coun­sel­lor pointed it out. He said, ‘You seem like you were a very lonely child and adult.’ And that’s some­thing that I al­ways felt—that I was alone in the world, even though I was sur­rounded by won­der­ful peo­ple.”

The singer notes that things never went off the rails to where he bot­tomed out. His life be­gan to turn around when he met his fi­ancée, who sug­gested he seek pro­fes­sional help.

“I’ve al­ways had a job, was al­ways em­ployed,” Tal­bot says. “My prob­lem was that I was never mak­ing my­self vul­ner­a­ble. Never shar­ing the tur­moil, my in­ner feel­ings—any­thing, re­ally. I was, for lack of a bet­ter word, stoic, to the com­plete detri­ment of my san­ity. In my teens and early 20s I was, ex­cuse the ex­pres­sion, fuck­ing men­tal, do­ing all sorts of hor­ri­ble things. Not treat­ing my­self with any re­spect, and, sadly, not other peo­ple ei­ther.”

Joy as an Act of Re­sis­tance is, then, a record that’s in some ways about atone­ment, but not in a maudlin or self­flag­el­lat­ing way. In­stead, Tal­bot and his band­mates—bassist Adam Devon­shire, gui­tarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kier­nan, and drum­mer Jon Beavis—set out to in­spire and up­lift, even while ac­knowl­edg­ing the dark­ness.

And Christ knows there’s been plenty of dark­ness in Tal­bot’s life, his mom dy­ing while he was mak­ing Bru­tal­ism, and his daugh­ter ar­riv­ing still­born as IDLES was be­com­ing a se­ri­ous thing. That lat­ter tragedy is ad­dressed in Joy as an Act of Re­sis­tance’s har­row­ing “June”, where over black-mass synths and a tell­tale-heart drum­beat, the front­man starts out with the soul-rip­ping lines “Dreams can be so cruel some­times/ I swear I kissed your cry­ing eyes.”

IDLES’ great trick on the al­bum, though, is deal­ing with se­ri­ous top­ics with­out com­ing across as rage-filled mis­an­thropes. Con­sider the propul­sive pro-im­mi­gra­tion an­them “Danny Nedelko”, named for a Ukrainian im­mi­grant close to the band, in which Tal­bot howls “Is­lam didn’t eat your ham­ster/change isn’t a crime.”

The singer lays out all the short­com­ings of mod­ern men in the pub sin­ga­long “I’m Scum”, and shows he’s not afraid of a good cry with the rock­a­billy-tinged rave-up “Sa­mar­i­tans”.

Ul­ti­mately, what you hear is a band that sounds like it’s thrilled to find it­self with a plat­form, one that was built with a uni­ver­sally strong re­cep­tion for IDLES’ fan­tas­ti­cally an­gry 2017, de­but Bru­tal­ism.

“One of the con­trasts be­tween us and other bands—es­pe­cially the bands that we looked up to in the early to late 2000s—is that we haven’t had any hand­outs or hype or money thrown at us at any point,” Tal­bot says. “We are con­sis­tently hard-work­ing and are very grate­ful for where we are. Grat­i­tude man­i­fests it­self in more hard work. We don’t sit around con­grat­u­lat­ing our­selves for all the good things that we’ve done. We’re more in­ter­ested in re­pay­ing our au­di­ences, as well as our man­age­ment and our la­bel, by mak­ing bet­ter mu­sic and be­com­ing bet­ter artists.”

And for Tal­bot, a bet­ter per­son who is no longer afraid to make con­nec­tions. It’s no ac­ci­dent that IDLES have been lauded for a live show where it’s ob­vi­ous that the band’s mem­bers love each other as much as they do their fans on the dance floor.

“With this band, we’ve re­al­ized that the big­ger the plat­form you have, the more op­por­tu­nity you have to make a dif­fer­ence,” Tal­bot says. “We’ve all be­come bet­ter peo­ple as we’ve be­come more vul­ner­a­ble, and peo­ple are giv­ing that back. All we’re do­ing is try­ing to open a di­a­logue. We’re not more im­por­tant than peo­ple in the room—in fact, those peo­ple are more im­por­tant than us be­cause if they don’t pay to see us we’re fuck­ing noth­ing. On a ba­sic, hu­mane level, what a beau­ti­ful thing that they are lend­ing their ear to us. When you get that ex­change be­tween band and au­di­ence, you end up with a ball of fuck­ing en­ergy.”

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