Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance (Partisan Records) 2018
“Fear leads to panic / Panic leads to pain / Pain leads to anger/ Anger leads to hate.” Throw a little proudly maintained ignorance in the mix and you’ll have your average moron in 2018. That’s the chorus for “Danny Nedelko”, a pro-immigration song, inspired by a Ukrainian immigrant who is close friends with the band, which marks the urge for inclusiveness and unity promoted by the band and sets the tone for the record.
Now, imagine your best mate just woke up from a long coma and wants to know what’s going on with the world. Good luck explaining to him Donald Trump as president of the USA, Brexit, Tinder and fidget spinners. Fortunately, Idles have just made it easier for you and put out yet another record that seems to summarize most of what’s fucked about the present in a language that both college professors and the guy who washes your car can understand.
Still, the Bristol-based collective make it clear that they’re not an angry band, or at least not just an angry band. For gratuitous anger leads nowhere, and theirs is supposed to push for positivity and start actual dialogues — something that seems rarer everyday as we stare at our phones. They’re not shy while addressing British landscape as it is perceived in the advent of Brexit. They’ll dwell against the toxic masculinity that is deep and subtly buried in the way we raise our children — “Man up / Sit down / Chin up / Pipe down / Socks up / Don’t cry / Drink up / Just lie / Grow some balls, he said / Grow some balls.” do they need to be more obvious? Also: fuck 007.
But Joy as an Act of Resistance — what a beautiful name, by the way — not unlike its predecessor, Brutalism, isn’t only focused on the outside and also deals with grieve, overcoming trauma, finding the will to better oneself and getting rid of all that is not helping one or anyone around him. It’s a record about finding peace and joy in the midst of all the chaos and absurd we live in and being socially productive by having a positive attitude.
On one hand this record might seem a little less cohesive than Brutalism, but that’s only happening because this one is a musically more daring and adventurous record and, I’d say, a looser one. The only thing worse than an act that underperforms is one that overperforms, and these guys know it. Between the pounding bass and primal drumming (that granted them references to Swans) there are moments of gentle maturity in the songwriting that shine through tracks such as “Samaritans”, which while being fairly simple structure-wise are exactly what they need to be. There’s also the undeniably heart-breaking “June”, where it’s hard to hold it together as Joe Talbot shares his own experience of losing a child by channelling Hemmingway’s shortest ever sad story. I’m not a father, but I’ve had sweat accumulating on my eyes listening to this one.
There’s enough unproductively negative shit going on, we don’t really need any more of that. I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again; I’ll say out loud: Idles are the most relevant act in popular music today. They’re making urgent music, they’re calling out on what needs to be called out, and they’re doing it with smiles on their faces, making sure everyone has a great time at their shows. They’re not pushing the boundaries of anything, really, but they’re saying what needs to be said in a way that everyone understands. They appeal to bought the hardcore underground dudes and to the casual mainstream folks. They’re not pretensions, they’re not hiding under abstract lyrics and metaphor. They’re reaching an audience, they’re shaking heads and they’re doing it right. Support this band!