SQUID’s New Album ‘O Monolith’ Is An Exquisite Auditory Example Of A Band’s Raw Sonic Ability

Published on 6 June 2023 at 21:58

Words: Max Bradfield


Frenetic yet thought out rhythm. Marvellous intonations and individual inflections. A writhing, jumbling lovechild of prog rock, modern post-punk sounds and math-rock disorientation. Squid have had me in their grasp since the early noises of The Cleaner, Houseplants and The Dial – so to come forth and review the band’s latest offering ‘O Monolith’, out on the 9th of June, was a real pleasure. 


Rolling out with Warp Records comes an album that shows Squid at their most sonically appealing. From the outset, ‘Swing (In A Dream)’ imposes an unignorable energy and the beginning of a fluctuating presence in this worthy follow up to 2021’s ‘Green Field’. A certain urgence arrives, this is fitting considering the meaning behind the track that was released in February as the first of three alluring singles. Drummer and lead singer, Ollie Judge, revealed the intriguing origins to The NME. 


We started writing it the Monday after Green Man 2021. We were really hungover, and I don’t think I could be bothered to play the drums properly, so that’s where that really simple drumbeat came from.” The same article also mentioned Judge’s inspiration with Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting The Swing. “I had a dream about this painting – it was all flooded, and everything was floating away. I thought it might be a climate anxiety dream, so I rode with that and imagined everyone screaming and dying – like that scene in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.


That first track really kicks on from Judge’s slight paranoia, as the song takes on a sporadic, fitful energy that could break out into signature Squid euphoria at any moment. This pent-up energy and anxiety beams into the lyrics “To live inside the frame / And forget everything / A swing inside a dream / And all they’ll do is scream.” It’s a worthy tee-up to the rest of the material, almost foreboding a new direction. Prior, where the band had more post-punk roots in a lyrical sense, Judge wanted this to be a personal reflection. “(The last album) ‘Bright Green Field’ is very ‘Post-punk band talks about how sh*t the Tory government is’. This is more about stories I’ve made up in my own head.”


As listeners, we get more disjointed discomfort with Devil’s Den. There’s a slightly menacing, yet rich in tone guitar riff that bounds into no-man’s land – greeted by a small fleet of horns. All the while drummer Ollie’s vocal delivery sets up his percussion perfectly, whilst a more fuzz-flecked riff leads this 3-minute mastery into something reminiscent of a song from King Crimson’s back catalogue. Siphon Song approaches with this same sort of pensive energy as Swing yet adopts a more electronic vocal effect – perhaps alluding to the band’s live direction. Again with The NME, Judge exacerbated a potential “Daft Punk era” as guitarist Louis Borlase and bassist Laurie Nankivell have been seen to employ more synth work in live performances. “About 70 percent of what we did on tour is on the album. It was nice to try out new ideas, but it was also quite nerve-wracking.” Although there are sheer elements of droning noise in this album, it never truly encroaches upon din status. The electronic vocal among other things adds to a wider soundscape that moves in a more harmonious fashion, as opposed to the band’s previous outright penchant for angular, janking riffs (although sometimes that does pierce through).


In Undergrowth, the listener does get a little throwback taste of prior structure. A bouncing bassline, emphatic vocal delivery, calculated (although on the face, random) bursts of trumpet, guitar and synth effects. These aspects all snowball this track through intriguing boundaries, as yes – there’s that undeniable whiff of a Squid song, yet it’s less upbeat. It’s got this weight to it, playing in perhaps a darker space than before. Judge himself, building on that idea of an attempted “cynically spiritual record”, emphasises this new train of thought. Overtaken by the lore behind Japanese folk stories, Ollie found himself drawn to spirits and souls. It led him down a path to animism. “I found it interesting to think of very British objects, like green wheelie bins, and imagine what kind of spirits would live in them,” he laughs. On Undergrowth he imagines dying and being reborn as a bedside table. 



It’s not just a random mix, it’s a collective movement that fluxes together to create quite a daunting haven for the mind to wander. In an interview with DIY, Squid admitted they’d got bored of “wonky, augmented-diminished guitar lines” and that they were “more excited by the idea of consonance and counterpart. The way in which you can involve several different melodies has the effect of a singular harmonic movement.” They’re right and it shows an interesting stride the band have taken.


The buoyancy continues with The Blades – a truly math-rock jam that hits prangs of American Football. After The Flash takes back a more tentative, brooding angle while nicely incorporating a female vocal before Ollie’s mangled cries lead the track to a dastardly, cacophony – leaving the listener to gather themselves in Green Light’s light and jaunting opening riff, driving beat and harmonious guitar. Subtle horns paired with this excellent tone and percussion adds this in-room sort of intimacy before an inevitable euphoric break of energy. 


Talking of the influence of his zealous percussion in NME, Judge explained how the band deliberately restructured their range. “It was Talking Heads’ album ‘Remain In Light’ that made us think about percussion in a different way. The percussion on that is so stereo, and you can hear how it was recorded in different parts of the room.” With the help of outside sources, Zands Duggan and Henry Terret, Squid asked questions of themselves. “We play a cowbell or two, but how can we take that a little bit further?”


If You Had Seen The Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away comes as Squid’s closing statement of the album. In a way, as album closers come, this lengthily-titled track reflects Squid's new dynamism in both writing and performance. From the start there’s a signature smooth bass, with repeating whispers in the back. Percussion pulses the song forward whilst falling guitar lines and subtle trumpets tickle in amidst that continued direct bass line. Whilst we don’t really find an imposing crescendo, there’s flighty chords that elevate, helping to play on the band’s newfound stream of ideas in their lyrics. Especially for Judge, this differentiates from prior work (however excellently it was received). 


He told DIY: “I wanted to sing a bit more on the album, and then we started recording it and I did a pass at vocal takes and just did the classic kind of screaming and shouting as loud as I can. It just didn’t really feel right, and so I worked quite closely with Dan getting that right. It was really, really difficult. I found it really hard. 

“I got a bit of impostor syndrome, just shouting all the time, and just got a bit bored of it. With the music being more melodic and softer at times, it kind of suits that. I think as a whole package, it shows a bit of progression from the last one, which is what we’re always trying to do.”


So, with slightly new directions within the method and the madness that is Squid – ‘O Monolith’ is a brilliant listen and from what I’ve read in DIY, NME and the like – it’ll be so interesting to see how this translates live when I, and OurSoundMusic, see them next week in their show at London’s Rough Trade East. 


Track list:

‘Swing (In A Dream)’
‘Devil’s Den’
‘Siphon Song’
‘The Blades’
‘After The Flash’
‘Green Light’
‘If You Had Seen The Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away’


NME article: https://www.nme.com/news/music/squid-new-album-o-monolith-interview-3400727 

DIY article: https://diymag.com/cover-feature/squid-o-monolith-may-2023

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