by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)
We’re nearly halfway through this incredibly stupid American presidency, and the second act has thus far wrought a mess of confused emotions in the country’s musical zeitgeist. The summer in popular music was largely defined by a violently bipolar take on what America is—not to mention a record exploring the politics and literal bipolarity of the country’s biggest cultural influencer—while factions of the metal community like Thou and Uniform achieved an unprecedented level of productivity. Though there’s no foreseeable American Idiot on the horizon, we’ve had our fair share of “New York City Cops” slipping into otherwise-apolitical tracklists.
As this backlash to the far-right and its Nazi-adjacent ideologies plays out simultaneously across the pond, IDLES have broken out as the saving grace of politically motivated punk with their radical sophomore triumph, Joy as an Act of Resistance. Under the direction of Joe Talbot’s gruff baritone, the Bristol five-piece navigate the well-tread topics of xenophobia, fascism, and toxic masculinity with the aggression of post-punk peers Blacklisters and USA Nails. But Joy, as the name suggests, confirms any suspicions raised on last year’s Brutalism that IDLES is really a pop band drafting on the recent success of groups like Palma Violets and The Vaccines—though they’re certainly less shy about flaunting their political punk influences.
With energetic sing-a-longs like the open-borders earworm “Danny Nedelko,” the self-love anthem “Television,” and their own “Best of Friends” platonic-love song “Love Song,” IDLES suggest they have more in common with American Idol than Australia’s IDYLLS, a homonymous post-punk outfit sufficiently embracing the genre’s inherent edginess. In fact, Joy is probably the most quotable LP the UK’s churned out since Bang Bang Rock ’n’ Roll, complete with Eddie Argos-like interjections (“Listen to more jungle”) and baffling non-sequiturs (“My boy fucked Tom Hiddleston’s stylist”). However, the majority of the album’s lyrics prove significantly more progressively aggressive on par with the line “I’ve got a penchant for smokes and kicking douches in the mouth” uttered between recycled Coathangers riffs on “Never Fight a Man with a Perm.”
In solidarity with their American peers, Joy as an Act of Resistance is an emotionally dysphoric record setting a common political ire and personal tragedy to an angsty musical landscape. The record’s humor seems less gimmicky than Art Brut’s and more symptomatic of Talbot’s second nature, a trait that helps transform a migrant crisis into an unbelievably fun multinational meet-and-greet in the “Nedelko” video. The fact that this flamboyant act of resistance was clearly fuelled by joy is beyond comprehension—it’s not irony, it’s not rock and roll. They’re just talking to the Blighties.