Brutalism. Not as in a school of thought, but as in being fucking brutalised. Presently having the shit kicked out of you for no apparent reason, and yet somehow loving every minute of it. Brutalism was the debut album from Bristol-based post-punk band IDLES, and an easy pick for the most explosive debut of 2017.
They made quite an entrance. The very first thing you hear on record is a woman screaming ‘NOOOOO SURRENDERRRRR!’ before the band launch into the absolutely savage ‘Heel/Heal’, building to a maniacal and breathless climax and then continuing to burn though lead singles ‘Well Done’ and ‘Mother’ with the same degree of unbridled fury.
It’s a one-two-three punch that hits straight to the stomach, and the most visceral opening to any album I heard in 2017. IDLES’ songs are relentless – they leap out of the speakers like a white hot cannonball of propulsive bass, spitting drums and fast, tremolo-picked guitars. On top of the chaos, frontman Joe Talbot delivers a captivating performance that is by turns furious, sarcastic, and witty.
His voice is incredible – raw and throaty, perfectly suited to guttural snarls and barks. Listen to the way he sings ‘I, I, I, I, I guess we was born to fail’ as if being clawed from the inside out on ‘Date Night’. Or how he hooks out the words ‘I PISSED in the kitchen sink’ like an angry pirate on ‘1049 Gotho’.
The lyrics are fantastic, too. IDLES are a band that make powerful music, but the songs are sceptical of all forms of power, particularly male power: on ‘Mother’, Talbot warns that ‘Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape / It starts in our books and behind our school gates’. And then again: ‘The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich’.
IDLES are a band with smarts and brawn, capable of launching their attack with both corrosive anger and caustic wit. And Brutalism is a carcass with plenty of socio-political gristle. Few albums in 2017 were as energizing, exciting and violently beautiful as this.