Squid – Bright Green Field
(Warp Records / Inertia Music)
The last year or two have felt like yet another golden period of forward-thinking UK music. There has been a fascinating sonic collision of indie, jazz, post-punk, art-rock and avant-pop that has thrown forth various musical enigmas such as Black Midi, Black Country, New Road, Shame, Dry Cleaning and the various jazz-based incarnations of Shabaka Hutchings. The spirit of experimentation and a willingness to stretch or ignore boundaries and genre limitations runs through these and many more as they take music deeper into the 21st century.
Formed in Brighton, Squid signed to the legendary electronic label Warp for their debut album, a sign of their propensity and ability to meld dance with intellectual art rock and avant garde soundscapes. That might sound like a recipe for a messy sound but the band’s strength is how they wrangle those sounds, allow for space when necessary and let fly with flurries of rhythm, discordancy and heady emotion when the songs require it.
Lead vocalist Ollie Judge possesses a commanding voice that barks and yelps and occasionally sings and which may well be a deterrent to some potential listeners. There’s a clear line back to the declamatory style (and at times, obtuseness) of Mark E. Smith as well as LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Judge employs a range of stylistic approaches to his voice – on ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ he even channels the moody austerity of Interpol’s Paul Banks, a respite for those who prefer a more traditional approach.
The psychedelic and untethered nature of the album allows ‘Narrator’ to begin like an even nervier Talking Heads before it descends into ecstatic and dystopian howls and shrieks over a persistent cyclical Krautrock rhythm. ‘Pamphlet’ and ‘2010’ doff their caps to Radiohead circa Kid A while ‘Peel St.’ echoes the frantic musicianship of Black Midi with its wondrous dexterity.
Squid have also drawn from outside their own ranks with a horn and string ensemble featuring the likes of trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray and saxophonist Lewis Evans from Black Country, New Road. Interspersed between the hyper funk workouts are synth passages and manipulated field recordings that possess musique concrète and soundtrack qualities that create unsettling vibes akin to the Wicker Man film.
All these strands and disparate elements add up to quite the intoxicating and dizzying collection of highly kinetic and compositionally wide-ranging songs, designed as much for the listener’s cerebral experience as they are some futuristic No Wave, dance-floor. Bright Green Field is an album to go deep with. Layered and aurally tactile, it offers up seemingly endless musical revelations, like travelling through an art exhibition of the greatest pop-art pieces on a fast-moving travelator.