To describe Idles as punk can be somewhat misleading, if only because it conjures images of late-'70s fashion and politics. However, they certainly inhabit the spirit of punk -- including the spittle-inducing vitriol and the acerbic lyrics -- but with a newfound energy that isn't trying to re-create an old aesthetic; instead, it's the sound of an angry band reacting to an increasingly tense and imbalanced world. On their debut album, they deftly walk the tightrope between tragedy and comedy, making it just as likely to rile you up as it is to make you laugh. This is exemplified on their breakthrough track, "Well Done," which sounds off on the rich elite's attitude and lack of understanding toward the poor, all the while sneering lines about Mary Berry's supposed love of reggae, just one example of the absurdist satire scattered throughout the record. That isn't to say Brutalism relies solely on contrasting dynamics; it backs up every gut punch and snigger with solid songwriting, featuring choruses that soar -- often ramping up the energy to frenzied levels -- and Joe Talbot's infectious lyrics that do more than enough to warrant snarling along with him.
Every track is surprisingly dense, considering that Talbot doesn't waste time on long-winded wordy verses. His lyrics might even seem sparse at first, when in fact they contain a wealth of references -- specifically to U.K. political history and culture -- and can be interpreted in multiple ways. It's the razor-sharp precision of his words that allows for effective interlocking with the rest of the band, so much so that they seem to move through each song as a combined force of nature, matching tight yet crunchy instruments to the poignancy of every syllable. Everything is tailored toward delivering their message; whether it be about art ("Stendhal Syndrome") or religion ("Faith in the City"), they paint a bleak but relatable picture.
Brutalism could have easily fallen into the trap of repeating itself, but every track has a personality. "1049 Gotho" is the most melodic, complete with a screeching Editors-esque chorus; "Divide and Conquer" slowly smothers, reflecting the suffocation of the NHS that the track confronts; "Mother" manages to combine a critique of voter apathy, a singalong expletive-filled chorus, and a tribute to Talbot's late mother into three and a half minutes. Perhaps Brutalism's most vital aspect is that it helps to articulate the anger -- an emotion often difficult to communicate effectively -- that the disenfranchised feel toward self-serving members of the elite; that it does this with intelligence, catharsis, and a wry smile makes for a necessary and thrilling listen from start to finish. ~ Liam Martin