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Idylls - "The Barn" | Album Review

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by Joseph Thomas

When I downloaded the zip file for this album and extracted the files, I fucked it up somehow and only transferred eight of the record's nine songs onto my device. The missing song was the nine and a half minute closer "In The Barn". It's the album's most intense listen, built around a lurching bassline that, after staggering alone for almost a full minute, is nearly subsumed by sheets of shrieking sax, tremolo guitar squalls and blastbeats that are just the right side of being completely overwhelming. The song is emblematic of everything that makes The Barn an excellent album; self-assuredly proggy and experimental, compellingly visceral and immaculately produced. I wrote the following glowing review of the album it concludes without ever having heard it;

In the three years since their well-received-but-still-underrated previous album Prayer For Terrene, Idylls have gone about paring back the more ornate and overtly chaotic elements of their sound. The guitar parts are more straightforward, but with an increased emphasis on dissonance, relying more on clever lead composition to get their point across than sheer volume and overdubbing. Passing similarities to Rowland S. Howard's work in The Birthday Party belies a familiarity with Australia's rich history of outrĂ© post-punk hinted at by Terrene's cover of Venom P. Stinger's "PCP Crazy". Jim White's jazz-damaged and snare-friendly drumming in Venom is also present in The Barn to an extent, as are aspects of Tracy Pew's junky bass tone. But dragging, swampy post-punk rhythms have been largely rejected in favor of brawny, breakneck cadences; technically demanding work, more befitting of a metal band. What is retained is an especially Australian knack for sounding legitimately unhinged. There is a derangement captured in the guitar-work and a certain hysteria to the vocal cadences that, married to more traditionally heavy bass and drums, makes a sound like Mark E. Smith's bastard Aussie sibling trying to beat up Converge.

With some of the more cliched traits of "heaviness" eschewed in the instrumentation, the experimentalism of Billie Stimple's vocals comes into greater focus. Their delivery is imbued with an emotional capacity that is rarely found in aggressive music. "Maslows Dogs" has them coming off like a metallic Young Thug, the song attacked across multiple voicings, sometimes within the same lyric. There are brief moments on "On My Chopping" where they sound like a possessed Elvis. Where other vocalists scream to project a sense of dominion or unfiltered aggression, Stimples' impulse seems to come from the other direction; an attempt to externalize and own their vulnerability. At the same time, there is an unmistakable sense of scorn to them. It's like hearing the roar of a predator and the cry of its wounded prey in unison. Even in their occasional devolution into degeneracy, they sound distinctly humane, which make them that much more affecting.

Stylistically, this music is not without precedent. There are shades of the Three One G roster in the way it marries the more demented and danceable eras of punk and hardcore with metal's emphasis on technicality.  What is rare, and the true triumph of this album, is the way its technical accomplishment is rendered solely as a vessel for real feeling. Thought and emotion in unison. It's an album for anyone who sought out underground punk, hardcore and metal out of the usual disaffection with the mainstream, only to be further alienated by boneheaded displays of ritualized hyper-masculinity. It's a liberation of musical competency from the hands of elitist uber-musicians who pre-load it with tacitly exclusionary ideas of authenticity. For me, "metalcore" is usually a dirty word, a term from which few bands escape derision as a matter of course. But The Barn sounds so vital and compelling that Idylls easily secure their place in the rarefied zone of non-disgusting "metalcore" bands.