Squid

O Monolith review | Squid return to the top of a muddled post-punk scene

★★★★☆
Squid rejuvenate a mishmashed post-punk scene with their sophomore album, O Monolith, writes Lucy Harbron.

★★★★☆


Post-punk is a boring phrase now. It means nothing, no one really knows the history, very few people really care. In 2023, the label has come to mean something doom-filed, grungy, dark, loud, maybe with some spoken word or a singer that can’t carry a tune. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a massive fan of the genre – but there’s something about Squid that is different.

The first single of the new album era, ‘Swing (Inside A Dream)’, shrugs off any dreariness associated with the movement, and bounds into raging, building intensity. With a vocal that seems to hark back to The Replacement’s ‘Swingin Party’ – a track that a lot of the much-of-the-same post-punk crowd would likely reference – Squid’s Ollie Judge borrows the swagger and ditches any hint of boredom. In the first track of their second album, O Monolith, you already know the band are going to keep you on your toes.

Whether it’s all-out guitar and trumpet chaos, silly vocal fluctuations, a la Red Hot Chilli Peppers, video game details, or dark lyrical depths, no one could ever describe Squid as samey – from the first moment of this album to the last.

O Monolith

Thematically, the album is just as hard to pin down. The album’s message is as mysterious as monoliths themselves – landing as a grand, sturdy whole. Despite beginning undeniably left-field and experimental, even for the band’s grandios standards, O Monolith is as dominating as its namesake.

With every experimentation, whether it be a new vocal effect or the decision to write a game score, Squid seem more than sure of themselves. It doesn’t feel like confidence, it feels more solid than that – like a giant stone needle that we can all only stand round and gasp at.

If I had to take a guess at what the band are getting at, I’d loosely say they’re picking holes in our stubborn society; especially when it comes to clear standout track ‘Undergrowth’, with its themes of environmentalism, mortality and the current unshifting sense of societal peril creeping in.

If post-punk has always been boringly interested in a faint sense of dread, Squid are focused on all-out doom. In places, notably on ‘Siphon Song’ and the marching intro to ‘After The Flash’, O Monolith could easily be soundtracking a horror film. Regularly stepping out of the musically intense and into the unsettling, there’s genuinely something a little scary about O Monolith as the band write a soundtrack to the uncanny.

Squid

Photo: Alex Kurunis

Falling slightly into the trappings of a tricky second album, O Monolith shines brightest in its singles, with ‘Swing (Inside A Dream)’, ‘The Blades’ and ‘Undergrowth’ sticking out as the best tracks. With each three representing a different corner of the album through varied degrees of chaos, they’re also undeniably the most listenable tracks.

I’m sure to more seasoned post-punk fans, O Monoliths’ biggest breakdowns will be child’s play, but there are moments where it dips too deep into uncomfortable. I’m thankful for the playlistable tracks, providing buoys in the sea of experimentation.

That being said, this is an album I instantly want to see live. Providing new material that not only lives up to their debut Bright Green Field but is sure to up the ante of their live show, tracks like ‘Green Light’ and ‘Undergrowth’ are opportunities for huge moments this festival season.

Refusing to fall into the trappings of the mish-mash middling genre that modern post-punk has become, O Monolith is a deeply interesting album from an interesting band. Squid asserted themselves as leaders of the genre back in 2021 and, on their second album, they’ve more than proved they’re still worthy of their spot at the front of the pack.

Despite describing themselves as a “musically stubborn band”, I wouldn’t say this is a stubborn album. If stubborn is being detrimentally stuck in your ways, there’s nothing detrimental here about Squid’s clear and singular vision. O Monolith is a towering and loud album that seeks to make a soundtrack for that unsettling knot in your tummy.

Playing with dread like a fascinating toy, refusing to fall into clichés or the surface-level political commentary that a lot of post-punk has become, instead O Monolith considers the darkness in modern feeling – the unsettling air in the glass half full.

With fun moments, instrumentation that more than levels-up from the band’s debut and a clear vibe, Squid’s second album is a light of hope in the genre. Maybe things are still exciting in this area after all.


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