What We've Been Listening To This Week...IDLES, Felix M-B, TV Priest, Sapphire Blues & Premium Leisure
By Jon Milton
This week saw the release of the much anticipated third album by IDLES, Ultra Mono. It’s fair to say that the critics have been divided in their opinions of the album; the Quietus were one of the first to comment, in a review that veered between acerbic wit and outright personal attack, with others such as The Times equally as disparaging, whereas media like the NME and DIY have been largely positive, although you feel they were always going to be, as is their agenda . The bands fans are also polarised, with comments placed on AF Gang (a fan page dedicated to the band on Facebook) split between those that love the album and those that have taken issue with the somewhat simplistic nature of some of the lyrics.
Personally I love the energy and anger that IDLES create, their music captures the mood of this current era. In many places, Ultra Mono hits the mark with this, with songs like Grounds truly inspired, but at points the endless polemic starts to become exhausting. In some ways you can see why opinions diverge: its easy to consider this as a natural continuation from ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ and celebrate the sheer level of in-your-face messaging and music, but equally as easy to view Ultra Mono as the point where the band started to cash in, becoming an exaggerated version of themselves. The intense marketing of the album (an £80 vinyl package???) doesn’t exactly help to dispel the latter view.
At this stage I’d suggest keeping an open mind and avoid looking for flaws in Ultra Mono if you want to get the most out of it. Some of the press criticism of the album feels like its come from individuals who’ve never really got the mass appeal of the band, have never liked them and have been waiting for the opportunity to knock them down and its therefore difficult to take them seriously given the lack of balance. For that reason its pace and power should be celebrated not derided, at least for now.
And now for something completely different. There was I casually browsing my social media feed on Friday night, when I came across a story from Do Nothing, recommending the debut album by some dude called Felix M-B.. Being an inquisitive type I thought I’d give it a listen and I have to say I was blown away. If you’re a fan of late sixties/early seventies Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, or from more recent times Fink and Devendra Banhart you should really give this a listen. Chunk is absolutely wonderful, 10 beautiful, wistful songs to warm your heart and bring a smile to your face.
The album begins with Hypochondriac, soft strumming and gentle clarinet accompanied by Felix’s soft, understated vocals rising and falling as the song unfurls. Recent single Chunk is absolutely glorious, with its rippling piano ebbing and flowing and a genius outro reminiscent of early period Tom Waits. As is the case with Waits from those first few albums, you can almost imagine yourself in a bar somewhere listening to Chunk being performed, joining in on the chorus of songs like the Dylan-esque RVW (which was inspired by time spent touring with Lorkin O’Reilly), Spit, and Supermoon, which features backing vocals performed by Felix and his friends on a drunk evening in the studio. Chunk is brilliant from start to finish, an album that will charm you and make you smile one minute then make you well up the next.
Of the singles released this week the highlight was definitely ‘Slideshow’ by TV Priest. Another taster from their ‘Uppers’ album due out in early November, Slideshow is about the internet, algorithms and information by all accounts. As is the case with the band’s previous single This Island, Slideshow is motorik driven with discordant guitar throughout, which on its own sounds fantastic although you do hope that the album carries a bit more variation to prevent it all becoming too one dimensional. We’ll find out of course in a month or so when the album comes out, and there will be another track coming out in the coming weeks too.
Also of note this week were the new singles by Premium Leisure and Sapphire Blues. Premium Leisure is a solo project by Chris Barker, who plays guitar for Willie J Healey and this single Remedies has a bit of a Performance era White Denim vibe about it. You can read more about it here. The Sapphire Blues single ‘Ourselves Forgotten’ is also very good, post punk with a twist, which you can read about here.