Album Review: Squid – O Monolith (Warp)


With each and every new release, Squid become more consciously removed from their once signature ‘city punk’ sound. You could say this was teased and inevitable from their previous steps and song structures, but it’s really on their sophomore effort that Squid mark their biggest, and most developed leap of faith yet. A move to Wiltshire was a good education, it’s prehistoric monuments serving as an obvious influence not just on the records title, but it’s context and sound. Thanks to Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios, this record is notably less claustrophobic than their debut, now opening up room and opportunity for every wire that is invariably strewn across the floor during live performances and press shots.

O Monolith consists of 8 very tight tracks, it’s lyrics serving as clustered tales, possibly interconnected, about dreams, reincarnation, neolithic tombs, police brutality, rats, the romans, and the like. Textures take frontal stage on each track, and give plenty room for sonic highlights, of which there are many. The baroque period piece Devil’s Den initially springs to mind, where fingers can be heard sliding icily across guitar fretboards, beautifully complimenting Judge’s lyrics concerning pagan fear, witch trials and an ancient tomb located near the recording studio. Starting off soft, the track soon gives way to watery synths that abruptly phase in and out. In time, some sharp edged, high range guitar licks perform acts of infedelity to the first section (think of hard rock circa 1970). One thing I love about Squid is their ability to consistently make 30 seconds of music good enough to make you skip back and re-listen to any given track.

Siphon Song is another success. A track that is quite possibly Squid’s most experimental yet. The entire number is sang through a vocoder, leaving a set of almost completely unintelligable lyrics behind. Judge’s monochrome coated vocals nest themselves around some moody, out of breath synths (they’re a little reminiscent of something Beach House might have produced on their Devotion album, picture Gila. I like them), and drum machines for good measure. It’s a strange track, and delivers something quite esoteric to the ears, especially by the second half where musical post rockey passages cleanse the ears. Something that they flirt with on this record more than previously before.

The Swing, Fragonard (1827)

The singles, well chosen, jump in and out of these strong deep cuts. ‘Swing (Inside A Dream’), a ballsy opener and lead single, places the listener inside a dream of Judge’s. He describes tensely being stuck inside a melting 1827 Fragonard painting, The Swing. His delivery makes it all the better, notably inert and paralysed, full of paranoia, as if we’re inside Judge’s lucid head trying to scream out while dreaming. Don’t let the electronically charged dance synths deceive you into thinking this is an easy ride. This is a warm up, alike to the brain’s before moving into fight or flight mode. We soon learn this tone painting is most definitely the case, as the band descend into some chugging, steam filled krautrock, boiling over into a molasses thick climax. Maybe they were tiptoeing on the brinks of pretension with the idea, but they swerve it, making such an idea work so well.

Undergrowth is another a fantastic track. This time laced with spidery guitar riffs, a massive chorus, and some terrific Kafkaesque dread. At least lyrically, where Judge yelps about his fears of being reincarnated, animism style, as a chest of drawers. During the track he is trying to get the attention fruitlessly of his family. To me these are Judge’s best set of lyrics yet, hands down and hats off. Very picturesque. Carey’s influence on this track is especially strong to my ears, there’s something very signaturey about the hip hop leaden floorboards, and that’s a nice touch too.

The glitchy shell of The Blades comes next, reminding me personally of something Radiohead may have done around their Kid A era. The structure, similarly to the other singles, takes an idea and milks it to a hard hitting conclusion. Slippery guitar riffs, and impressive drumming (In 7/4?) hold the track just about in one piece, against the force of its synth work. Judge lyrically tracks a police helicopter pilots day during the Kill The Bill Riots, before crashing into a very vulnerable spoken word piece, which is another moment of dynamic potency. These tracks have a sense of urgency that is so carefully crafted.

The latter half of the record shares more of the familiar musical DNA that permeated the last album. ‘Green Light’ for instance is familiar Squid doing what they do best. Fast moshpit music driven by basslines which will undoubtedly please the early fan. Don’t let that deceive you though, this is one of their most defined efforts at it yet, you can practically hear the saliva being shook out of the horns during it’s quiet sections. And in part this is true of ‘If You Had Seen The Bulls Swimming Attempts You Would’ve Stayed Away’, which ends the LP. Again driven by bass and heavy lyrics, this is a slightly obscure track which veers upon avant garde musical theatre. Whispering, chanting, choral backing vocals, and crescendoing verses ride the waves of its bass leaden groove. The cries of poverty. And while one could say the anti climactic ending is maybe a little unsatisfying, I have a feeling this is exactly what the band intended.

Key Tracks: Swing (In A Dream), Devils Den, Siphon Song, Undergrowth, The Blades, Green Light

O’ Monolith will be released via Warp Records on 9th June 2023