Every week, another fresh slate of albums drops down from the almighty cloud to compete for our attention. It’s awesome, but also overwhelming. So let’s slow down and take a quick look back at one album from last year that you might have missed but deserves a listen.
There’s a strange wind rustling rock ‘n’ roll’s coffers and it’s coming once again from across the pond.
But first, a short history lesson. In 1971, just outside Blenheim Palace, a pub was opened in honor of south London’s last working windmill. For a while, the Windmill struggled to find its niche. It tried catering to locals, the Irish, bikers, poets. Then around 2002, the Brixton pub started booking live music. Early gigs included Tex-Mex avant-gardists Calexico, an incognito Kurt Wagner and the house band from Kill Bill: Vol 1.
Ever since, for the past 20 years, the Windmill Brixton has generated wave after new wave of British rock bands. It sparked Hot Chip. It propelled Bloc Party. It even reenergized Stereolab.
The latest wave of Windmill bands are giving indie rock a similar jolt. But they are also way, way weirder. They’re puzzling but also exhilarating, classically trained and yet impish and unruly. In fact, these bands are so far out of the ordinary that critics don’t even know what to call them. Nu-crust. Progressive proto-punk. Spider rock. Nothing sticks. You can’t pin them down. They combust genres while staying cagey and insular. Really, the scene belongs to just three bands: black midi, Black Country, New Road, and Squid.
Squid have been around the longest. These five young ruffians started jamming around Brighton back in 2016. But Squid were the last in their class to release an album. Bright Green Field can be just as befuddling as Schlagenheim or For the First Time. But Squid’s debut is catchier and slightly more accessible. It offers a roundabout way into the latest and greatest trends to come out of rock’s cutting edge.
Let’s start with the weird stuff. Bright Green Field sounds like it was scraped together from malfunctioning bits off OK Computer. It starts with 45 seconds of choked ambient noise that gargles clanging church bells, a distorted 30-person choir and muzzle of bees. It ends on an 8-minute rager about a shut-in who becomes indoctrinated by right-wing propaganda. Stuffed between those mismatched bookends is a carnival full of oddities: a cornet with a head cold, strings that squabble like zombified chickens, lots of conspiratorial robot gibberish. Heck, there’s even room for a medieval wind instrument.
Like their buddies in Black Country, New Road and black midi, Squid are mightiest when muscling up towering, sweaty anthems. The album’s lead single boils to a climactic cacophony that peaks with guest shrieks courtesy of Martha Skye Murphy, who shatters any distinction between ecstasy and agony. But it’s the quieter moments on Bright Green Field where Squid truly get freaky. “Boy Racers” drifts off into a spaced-out drone that feels like you’re being sucked inside of Tron.
Squid’s prevailing mood is rampant paranoia. Bright Green Field was written at the height of the pandemic, amidst the fallout from Brexit. “Everything seemed very bleak,” Ollie Judge told Stereogum. The album builds around a loose concept that’s modeled after J.G. Ballard, leading you on an aimless journey through a nameless dystopian cityscape, where taxis dance and TV guides grow fatter by the day. “Oh, where were you when the ice came to town?” Judge spouts on “Peel St.”, which takes after another obscure British sci-fi novel. “Was there enough to kill the whole damn street?” “You don’t remember? You don’t remember!?”
To call what Judge does singing feels reductive and also a little offensive to anyone who actually sings. Bright Green Field might be a futuristic vision of “Anarchy in the U.K.”, but Squid makes me think of what Talking Heads would’ve sounded like if fronted by Isaac Brock. Judge isn’t a singer. He’s too pissed off. Instead, he’s the fly trapped in the Queen’s bonnet, a spit of venom in Boris Johnson’s eye. His default setting is a hiccupping bark, like a wild pack of family dogs scratching at the gates of Buckingham Palace. “Don’t push me in!” he yells over the bridge of “Paddling” before ducking under a rush of choppy riffs.
Squid are too slippery to slap with just one genre. But that doesn’t mean they can’t settle into a groove. After all, Judge is also their drummer. The best songs on Bright Green Field are the ones that ride a steadily undulating rhythm. “G.S.K.” gets its name from a Brutalist skyscraper but the song moves, swayed by synthetic string swells, tootling sax and funky guitar twitches. Before being vaporized into alien goop, “Boy Racers” could almost pass for In Rainbows, thanks to its lava lamp of a bass line. Even “Peel St.” momentarily breaks away from gnawing at post-punk’s switchboard with a brief detour into punchdrunk marimba.
Not every experiment works. “Documentary Filmmaker” flubs and flutters without coming into focus, whereas “Global Groove” smacks you upside the head with rants against the 24-hour news cycle.
But when Squid are firing on all cylinders, Bright Green Field is something to behold. The claymation video for “Pamphlets” makes me genuinely uncomfortable. I recommend watching it once then flushing those creepy blue apples from your memory with cute animal TikToks. But the song rules. It’s a gradual but relentless ascent into madness. The guitars go absolutely haywire, thrashing around like electric eels in a tornado. “Open wide!” Judge screams above the mounting chaos. “We’ve got everything, everything you like!” That’s probably a stretch. Squid aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But they’re a welcome splash of ink in rock’s proverbial punch bowl. Take my advice and do as the man says.
Squid just wrapped their U.S tour. But our very own Cher was ahead of the curve when she caught them last year at Johnny Brenda’s. Here are some sweet aerial shots that she snapped at the show, plus a clip of the band rousing up a joyful racket while performing “Pamphlets”.
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