Album Reviews

Squid – O Monolith

(Warp) UK release date: 9 June 2023

The post-punks’ second album juxtaposes delicate melodies and introspective moments with bursts of raw energy

Squid - O Monolith Everyone’s favourite aquatic post-punks Squid‘s second album, O Monolith, takes listeners on an immersive underwater journey filled with both beautifully harmonious and incredibly jarring layers of sound. Primarily influenced by Radiohead, but also taking the time to incorporate the sounds of both Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, O Monolith showcases a band capable of creating a unique fusion of old and new(ish).

The record explores various themes, including the delicate ecosystem of the environment, the intriguing world of domesticity, and the folklore of Bristol and the surrounding areas. Unlike their previous critically acclaimed album, 2021’s Bright Green Field, O Monolith finds them delving even deeper into denser and more whimsical themes.

In the press kit, Anton Pearson, the band’s guitarist, shared that they had a great time during the album’s creation, embracing spontaneity but also establishing a distinct tone on each track before delving into a new sonic realm; they only moved on when the basics were established. This characteristic has always appeared to have been a part of Squid’s collaborative music-making process, but O Monolith asks a lot more of the listener than Bright Green Field ever did.

The inception of O Monolith occurred just two weeks after the release of Bright Green Field, during Squid’s Fieldworks tour, and singer/drummer Ollie Judge credits the tour’s fully seated, socially-distanced shows as the proving ground for testing out unfinished tracks. The anticipation from the audience allowed them the freedom to experiment with musical ideas, unconstrained by expectations. They performed most of O Monolith live without finalised lyrics, making it a constantly evolving experience for both band and fans. For the final recording of O Monolith, however, the band decamped to Peter Gabriel‘s Real World studios in Wiltshire, a luxurious and expansive environment that enhanced their sound. This change of scenery apparently added a new dimension to their music, expanding it from their tight and compact post-punk style to something more fluid and spacious, like a vast coral reef teeming with life.

After opening with Kraftwerkian vocoder mayhem that’s sure to seize the listener’s attention, Swing (In A Dream) expands its sonic landscape, transporting us to a realm where Sonic Youth‘s characteristic sound is transmuted into a distinctly British flavour. The serpentine rhythms driven by corroded guitars remain intact, creating a mesmerising tapestry of musical intricacies. The abstract melodic structures unveil themselves gradually, drawing the audience into a mesmerising journey through uncharted sonic territory. Accompanying these captivating elements are the oddly spiritual lyrics, which weave a mysterious and thought-provoking narrative. The familiarity of Sonic Youth’s essence can be felt throughout the track, resonating with a sense of authenticity. However, the only noticeable departure from their sound is the ungodly saxophone, which injects an unexpected yet fascinating element into the musical tapestry.

Devil’s Den ventures boldly into the eccentric Zappa-esque realm of the band’s sound. It swings wildly, traversing a sonic landscape that oscillates between peaceful and platitudinous moments and levels of intensity that almost reach a confrontational stance. This audacious approach keeps the listener on their toes, never quite knowing what to expect next. The track Siphon’s Song, another undeniable triumph, follows a similar trajectory. It opens with a kind of Krautrock serenity, soothing the senses with its tranquil ambiance. However, just when one begins to settle into that tranquillity, the song takes a sharp left turn, gradually building up a sense of claustrophobia that feels reminiscent of Radiohead’s experimental sensibilities. This skilful manipulation of dynamics creates a thrilling and unpredictable sonic journey, further cementing the album’s prowess.

Undergrowth and The Blades continue the album’s trend of drawing inspiration from diverse sources while infusing them with Judge’s distinctive vocal stylings and idiosyncratic lyrical fascinations. These tracks serve as a prime exemplification of the album’s dichotomous nature, where moments of softness coexist with moments of intense expression. While they may borrow ideas from external sources, the band artfully refracts them through their own artistic prism, resulting in a refreshing reinterpretation that bears their unique imprint. Undergrowth and The Blades showcase the band’s ability to juxtapose delicate melodies and introspective moments with bursts of raw energy, delivering a rich listening experience that defies expectations. Difficult second album who?

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