Album Review: IDLES, ‘TANGK’

    On 2021’s CRAWLER, IDLES had no issue experimenting with their sound, finding ways to dial back the ferocity without giving up on the band’s core ethos. It was a surprisingly moody record that saw them continuing their collaboration with rap producer Kenny Beats, who co-produced its follow-up, TANGK, along with Radiohead associate Nigel Godrich and IDLES guitarist Mark Bowen. Eeriness was an oddly good fit for the band, not least because it coincided with vocalist Joe Talbot delving into his battle with addiction. But it was hard to imagine the album winning over too many skeptics; its minimalism also had the strange effect of highlighting the band’s more questionable tendencies, like the constant need to offer a playful reprieve, mantra, or explosive release for every moment of somber introspection. When Talbot said “Are you ready for the storm?” at the end of the opening track, inevitably, a storm ensued.

    There’s less of that on TANGK, which is even more intent on, if not always successful at, dialing things back. It’s an interesting proposition in part because the subject matter isn’t as uniformly dark as CRAWLER – every bit of press can be reduced to the fact that TANGK is an album of love songs, which, yeah, no shit – and Godrich’s involvement suggests they might be more primed to embrace the nuances and contradictions within their songs. And there is, in fact, evidence of a band eager to showcase a different expression of its identity here, as opposed to one simply trying different tricks to amplify the same universal message that was more deftly captured on 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance. ‘IDEA 01’ opens the album with swirling, glitchy instrumentation that immediately points to Godrich’s influence, but there’s something to be said about the way Talbot sinks into it, too, singing abstractly about “the things we lost in the fire” and repeating the final word like Thom Yorke himself might have. The mid-album piano track ‘A Gospel’ retains the fractured melancholy that must have been there in Bowen’s original demo, and given Talbot’s fierce propensity for optimism, the resigned tone of his singing “Just tell me darling/ And I’ll be your past” is particularly striking.

    It’s funny, then, that the next song barrels in with disco strings one could mistake for the next Dua Lipa single if it didn’t take less than ten seconds to announce itself as an IDLES track. As a preview of the record, ‘Dancer’, which features additional vocals from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Nancy Whang, signaled TANGK as the band’s potential dance-punk record, and fun as it was as a single, its giddiness ends up drowning out the buzzing experimentation that takes center stage elsewhere on the album. More effective in that regard are songs like ‘Grace’ and ‘Gift Horse’, whose off-kilter synths warp the songs out of shape even as they adhere to the band’s thumping post-punk – although if you’re only mildly intrigued by the band venturing outside their comfort zone, you might be tempted to tune out as soon as Talbot spits the line “Fuck the king” in a song seemingly about his daughter. (If you’re wondering: “He ain’t the king, she’s the king!”)

    While the vulnerability of Talbot’s vocals is admirable, especially since it’s a trait that’s always set IDLES apart in terms of their image, his lyricism is generally a step down from CRAWLER. The way he poetically improvises over ‘POP POP POP’ is compelling, the incongruence between his words and the ominous, dissonant instrumental actually matching his strange inversion of the German word schadenfreude. But the violent hypotheticals of ‘Roy’ ring hollow, and many of the songs, especially on the album’s weaker second half, feel underwritten, struggling to offer much to grasp onto besides the obvious motif of “Love is the thing.” You can’t question that mantra, of course, and Talbot’s delivery on the song ‘Grace’ does it justice. But when it’s so clearly at the heart of the album, one that stylistically tries a number of different things, you shouldn’t be left with the feeling of wanting that much more.

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    On 2021’s CRAWLER, IDLES had no issue experimenting with their sound, finding ways to dial back the ferocity without giving up on the band’s core ethos. It was a surprisingly moody record that saw them continuing their collaboration with rap producer Kenny Beats, who...Album Review: IDLES, 'TANGK'