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Taken from Pitchfork (Jun 09, 2023)

Squid: O Monolith Album Review

The English band's second album explores big questions with a bucolic, open-ended new sound. Where once they surged forward, now they wander.

Genre: Rock - Label: Warp - Reviewed: June 9, 2023 - Rated:7.3

by Ryan Leas

Squid photo by Alex Kurunis
Squid photo by Alex Kurunis

Just a few years ago, Squid were frenzied, bugged-out chroniclers of urban anxiety. Emerging from London's fertile new guitar scene and influenced by dystopian science fiction, their full-length debut Bright Green Field documented the suffocation of city life under increasingly untenable economic conditions, the surveillance state, and the UK's slide toward far-right politics. They crammed a lot into that album, and for its follow-up, they explore the rest of their homeland.

O Monolith cover
Squid: O Monolith cover

O Monolith arose from a seated-only, socially distanced 2021 tour. The always-restless quintet used their return to live music as an opportunity to experiment, improvising onstage and workshopping ideas for these eight, free-flowing tracks. Then they decamped to England's West Country to work at Peter Gabriel's studios. The bucolic surroundings reshaped Squid's music, resulting in an album that blooms and overgrows while chasing more abstract themes.

In just 42 minutes, Squid fire off in a lot of directions. Their core sound remains, with flares of distortion and full-throated freakouts erupting from wiry rhythms. But now floaty synths are just as important as corroded guitars, and their volcanic climaxes share equal space with songs that sputter, fade, and drift. Tracks like "Devil's Den" or "Green Light" still work off Squid's liquid-then-scabrous guitars, but the former also incorporates melodic cues from British folk traditions. Drummer and primary vocalist Ollie Judge's squawk-sing yelp often leads the charge, but he deploys it more judiciously. For a band that has always been adventurous, Squid now seek a different kind of freedom: They no longer surge forward, but wander.

In doing so, they find ways to evolve their sound-sometimes by inverting it. One of Squid's favorite tricks is forcing their songs to coil tighter and tighter until they burst. "Siphon Song," one of O Monolith's most striking moments, is a dreamlike flipside. A spacey, vocodered slow-burn, it plays like an elusive sigh before its alien refrain introduces one of the album's most unshakable melodies. It's a more shadowy rendition of the band's typical intensity, mirroring its inspiration: the numbness of the 24-hour news cycle and "compassion fatigue."

The rest of the album's subject matter is characteristically dense and far-flung. Squid collapse the ancient and contemporary, depicting witch trials alongside scenes of police brutality. British folklore and the enigmas of the West Country creep in alongside even more esoteric interests. During a spate of pandemic boredom, Judge began reading about animism and imagined people being reincarnated as mundane objects, yielding "Undergrowth" and its story of being reborn as a dresser drawer. "If You Had Seen the Bull's Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away" is as arcane as its title: an impressionistic meditation on rats, inspired by their long and contentious relationship with human society.

Judge has said he was trying to make a "spiritual" record, but also notes that his inherent cynicism attached a pessimistic lens. O Monolith raises bigger, more eternal questions about humanity's relationship to nature, and Squid's music becomes more open-ended while wrestling with them. This weaving quality means the music is unpredictable and often exhilarating, but the message is blurrier. Compared to the seething life of Bright Green Field, O Monolith doesn't settle on many concrete conclusions-either in the societal commentary or its suggestion of where exactly Squid are headed. Fontaines D.C. adopted a moodier take on Britpop arena anthems; Black Midi became gonzo prog pranksters; Black Country, New Road embraced maximalist emo-indie. Fascinatingly, Squid are still somewhere off the map.




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