IDLES Coalesce on the Fiery 'TANGK'

BY Anthony BoirePublished Feb 20, 2024


There are two wolves inside of UK punks IDLES on their fifth album, TANGK. The sludgy, motorik rock band return after 2021’s Kenny Beats-produced Crawler, searching for “joy upon joy” across TANGK’s whip-cracking 40 minutes. 

Co-vocalist Joe Talbot is the more brutish canine of the two, wielding his words like sledgehammers. The other dog in this fight is guitarist/dentist Mark Bowen, scheming with sounds rarely heard in guitar music. They have diametrically opposed paths on their sonic hunt — while Bowen may attempt to push the pack into being “the most experimental, synthiest hardcore band on the planet,” Talbot pulls them toward the loudest, most direct and sometimes obvious version of a 21st century punk band. In short form, Bowen wants to be hardcore Radiohead and Talbot is happy to be the Clash. By now it’s a well-trodden strategy, and they’ve set out on this opposing hunt plenty of times before, often to great success. 

TANGK might be their most adventurous record, sonically. There’s tons of keys, synthesized guitars and signature heavy, stankface-inducing basslines, and Kenny Beats remains the perfect producer for the stomping, clear-eyed version of IDLES. However, Nigel Godrich worked with Bowen on a few of these tracks, including the out-of-left-field opener “IDEA 01,” a tasteful retread of the best textures from Thom Yorke’s recent solo effort Anima. First single and anthemic LCD Soundsystem collaboration “Dancer” brings the energy shortly after, straight to the point, scuzzy and full of attitude. Talbot, finally, has nothing to prove. He just wants to groove.

The back half of the album is where the experiments coalesce. With the exception of the blistering “Hall & Oates,” IDLES tread new ground in lockstep. The high hat heavy drum part on “Grace” is cheerful, robotic and inspired. Bass, guitar and synths blend into a roaring whirl of noise as Talbot croons, “No god / No king / I said love is the thing.” Somehow, it’s easier to believe the ecstatic joy on the quieter, simmering tracks. The explosive ending of “Gratitude” brings to mind some of Radiohead’s wildest left turns, the rhythm section holding down a springy groove as lofi guitars and synths wash over each other in a completely new kind of crescendo for the band. 

In the tradition of a few IDLES records, they end things with their slowest tune. “Monolith” is their best closer yet, with Talbot whispering, “Tell my boys I’ll be back in spring / I found myself my own king.” It seems directed at the band and their fans, a sort of farewell. He hums softly before a short, mournful saxophone echoes his vocal in the closing seconds, hinting at even wilder things to come.

The record’s more direct first half may appeal to those who want their old school IDLES fix, but repeated listens to its rangier second half reveal an emotional complexity and sonic cohesion that have long escaped the band. Suddenly, there’s reason to be excited about where IDLES are headed. 


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