Photo By: Noah Nickel via Apple Music

British rock band Idles are back with their fourth LP Crawler which sees the band progressing to a more contemplative and mature sound.

Idles have been turning heads since 2017’s Brutalism, a record where they displayed their one-of-a-kind ability to blend punk sensibilities with some pretty bleak and noisy instrumentals. One thing that stood out then and stands out here is lead singer Joe Talbot’s ability to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to lyrics. 

The band began to gain a reputation among fans for subverting the macho attitudes of the genres they were broadly working in through intimate lyrics and sloganeering in the name of love over instrumentals that were built to give listeners whiplash. Take “No Touche Pas Moi” off of last year’s Ultra Mono, a song that directly confronts rape culture through a fast pace surf rock instrumental with aggressive vocals that cry out “Consent! Consent! Consent!”

This has always been a strength of the band; they’re willing to go into contentious social topics in a fairly straightforward fashion without being overly corny or sacrificing the quality of their music. 

However, Crawler is a different beast altogether. In certain ways it’s closer to the more barren and personal tracks off of their first record, such as “Mother,” than anything off the last two full lengths. 

Production-wise the band is clearly in new territory, no thanks to hip-hop producer extraordinaire Kenny Beats who helped produce their last record and stayed on board for this album’s production. Kenny’s signature sensitivity towards mixing bass, making sure it has both depth and strength while complimenting the melodies that are overtop, is on full display on this record’s composition. Take “The Beachland Ballroom,” one of the softer cuts off the LP, which is a kind of post-punk ballad that manages to still be high in energy thanks to that masterful balance of a powerful and rapid fire use of bass that doesn’t drown out the other instruments in the slightest. 

The message is clear on Crawler: this is a personal redemption story. Instead of the broad social outcries that characterized Ultra Mono, the band are getting more introspective and personal. Of course, there remains some stinging social commentary here and there, like on “Meds” which points out the mass privatization of stress that we see taking place via the pharmaceutical industry. 

Another standout track is “Car Crash” for its production alone. It’s the most abrasive instrumental on the album, using a tampered-with horn sample that bakes an anxiety into the mix, which is compounded by Talbot’s downright terrifying vocals that are strained through a radio effect. The results are magical with this being one of the more out-of-left-field cuts that’s somehow still easy to return to again and again. 

Near the backend of the record things take a dip in energy for the most part, but double in emotional affect. “Progress” is a heart-wrenching song about the vicious cycles of addiction. It features these squealing strings that shift from one side to the other of the mix; this is a must-listen if you have a good pair of headphones. 

“King Snake” is the only dud on the record with a fairly one dimensional instrumental coupled with an uninteresting hook. Luckily the final track, appropriately titled “The End,” redeems the lull of the previous track with what’s still a fairly simple instrumental, but is used to its benefit as this is a victory song about making it through personal trials and tribulations. The bittersweet hum of repetitive guitar riffs heightens the life-affirming lyrics on this cut. The plainly stated hook consists of Talbot exclaiming  “Life is beautiful / God damn!” and it’s one of the emotional highpoints of the record. 

While there’s definitely some undercooked spots here, this is overall another solid project under the belts of the British rock group. Crawler’s maturity signals a commitment from the band to keep improving on their sound as they continue to cement themselves as one of the biggest names in contemporary punk music.