Squid : O Monolith

tom morgan
Squid O Monolith review

In his 2014 essay collection Ghosts Of My Life, cultural theorist Mark Fisher posits a thought experiment: to test how innovative a piece of art is, imagine showing it to someone living several decades prior to its release. To what extent would it shock them with its newness? He imagines playing jungle music from the early ’90s to someone from the late ’80s. Dance music progressed to such an extent in that brief period that the jungle track would likely blow apart the mind of the late ’80s listener. Never mind playing, say, grindcore to someone from the 1940s.

But if you tried this with a selection of contemporary music, how often would we get a similar reaction? Some modern genres (eg. trap, hyperpop) would definitely pass the test. Modern indie rock, however, would be less impressive to our temporally displaced test subjects. So much of what is termed “indie rock” might as well be called retro rock. Fisher had some bleak ideas about the rise of retro culture (go check out his work—it’s both mind-expanding and very depressing) and how it has coincided with the grim omnipotence of late capitalism.

In the UK, indie rock’s revivalism has turned its head to an increasingly prosaic yet unexpectedly-flourishing post-punk style. Countless second-rate The Fall imitations have saturated the scene, overshadowing a minority of bands crafting relevant and innovative music. A glistening example of this latter minority is the brilliant Squid. Their arrival in this era has meant that the five-piece have been lumbered with the post-punk tag, even if their ambitions and technical abilities far outstrip most of their peers.

O Monolith is Squid’s second full-length, following their 2021 breakthrough Bright Green Field. It’s telling that Squid are signed to Warp Records—the revered UK label best known for their groundbreaking electronica works by the likes of Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada. This is the lens through which to view Squid’s warped (pun intended) brand of experimental rock. Much like how those aforementioned IDM acts approached structural organization, the eight tracks included on O Monolith move with tendrilous abandon, stretching out into all directions like a mycelial network.

This prog-like sense of exploration is just one of the singular qualities that makes Squid’s music such a unique, anti-revivalist delight. Drummer/lead vocalist Ollie Judge’s unusual, half-yelped vocals are put to stellar use on the likes of “The Blades” and “Green Light.” The former shows off his impressive grasp of harmony, the latter his ability to modulate between a whisper and scream. His technique is a metaphor for Squid’s whole appeal. Both are unpredictable, distinct, eccentric and inexplicably-endearing.

Another thrill comes from using O Monolith to assess the degree of growth Squid have undergone in their relatively short lifespan. The band’s early tracks such as “Houseplants” and “The Dial” were driven by a squelchy, energetic bounce, a mode shared and expanded upon by Bright Green Field’s many highlights. However, few of O Monolith’s mini-epic’s take the same route. There’s urgency (see lead single “Swing (Inside A Dream)” and “Green Light”), however most are relaxed and confident. “Undergrowth” calmly grooves, the wistful “Devil’s Den” meanders and weighty “After The Flash” trudges like a cumbersome giant across a green field.

To return to Fisher’s thinking, O Monolith is a charming and low-key thrilling example of indie rock-adjacent music’s ability to innovate. It seems new—not drastically so, but pulsing with enough fresh ideas that it feels quietly radical. Squid’s ambitions, willingness to push themselves and endless array of quirks means that they stand tall as proof that there are still strange, exciting new shapes for rock music to be bent into.

Label: Warp

Year: 2023

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