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Album review: Idlewild’s new album easier to admire than enjoy

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, April 24, 2019  /  11:59 am
Album review: Idlewild’s new album easier to admire than enjoy

Conscious presentation: Idlewild injects their poetic folk rock with sonic experimentation in their latest album, 'Interview Music'. (Courtesy of Idlewild/-)

On their eighth and latest album, Scottish band Idlewild injects their poetic folk rock with sonic experimentation that is commendable, although it may present a challenging listen for the band's older fans.

For the most part, Interview Music sacrifices band vocalist Roddy Woomble's usually engrossing sense of melody to make room for intriguing instrumentation.

There still are some memorable hooks here, but they are in limited supply compared to the band's past records – not even mentioning their most celebrated ones (2000's 100 Broken Windows and 2002's The Remote Part).

Woomble's lyrics remain an intriguing blend of surrealism and image-conjuring as always, but losing its usual partner in melodies robs it of some urgency.

It can be argued that Interview Music is conscious in its presentation of something less immediate than Idlewild's usual routine, giving way to a deeper listening that rewards repeated listens, although whether anyone aside from the most ardent Idlewild fan would take for more than a few spins remains a question.

Veteran: Scottish band Idlewild is a veteran rock band once heralded as the next big thing in the early 2000s, alongside now-stars Coldplay and Muse. Veteran: Scottish band Idlewild is a veteran rock band once heralded as the next big thing in the early 2000s, alongside now-stars Coldplay and Muse. (Courtesy of Idlewild/ Empty Words.)

Indeed, in a way this is the sound of a veteran rock band – once heralded as the next big rock band in the early 2000s alongside now-stars Coldplay and Muse – re-injected with the youthful indie-rock vigor they built their early records on.

There's that element of trying to figure out this new sound they've arrive at, toying with new elements and putting things together and letting listeners in on the process unedited. As such, it may lack catchiness but it's rarely trying out some new pathway.

Listen to “All These Words”, which ends by shifting into a landscape-evoking ambient piece, faraway piano tinkling and field recordings, not dissimilar to the first single “Dream Variations”, which shifts from mid-tempo rocker to almost prog-rock balladry toward the end.

The title track ends with the same level of sound extension, a breakdown of almost free-form piano versus slide-guitar soloing that lurches toward chaos before diving back into a familiar rock-song form.

Guitarist and co-producer Rod Jones has the most obvious fun here; his guitar moves between dissonance and experimental sound that brings to mind everyone from noise-rock stalwarts Sonic Youth to the post-naughts United States lo-fi scene and shifts into glittering single notes and chiming arpeggios comfortably.

The fun in experimentation is obvious. The minimalist post-punk twilight guitars of “I Almost Didn't Notice” is arty and full of moodiness as it shifts from careful jangle to fuzzed-out solo to art-rock organically, while “Familiar To Ignore” pits the record's ever-present acoustic piano against crunchy guitars.

The experimental approach doesn't always present itself in eclectic form; sometimes it’s about blending genres in less-expected ways.

“Mount Analogue” infuses Idlewild's sound with arrangements, both instrumentally and vocally, that almost sound bluesy and even slightly jazz-like. Aside from trumpets, doop-doop female backing vocals and an underlying blues rhythm, the songs still have time for sampled speech within their verses.

Meanwhile, the hooks of “There's a Place for Everything” are R'n'B harmonies that certainly do a lot to give the unremarkable basic melodies some needed kick.

At 13 songs, the record has a lot of opportunity to sink something in after a few spins. The painful truth is it doesn't.

“Lake Martinez” is a soothing piano-driven ballad underlined with ambient strings that may not work for fans of the band's more rockist tendencies, but at least it has established verses and choruses.

“Same Thing Twice”, the album's first video-led single, has guitar crunches that's not-rare in the band's latter days' “rock songs”, but its verses are almost unmelodic, an experiment in speak-sing that doesn't really work. Not until it gets into its pre-chorus and chorus that it launches, with Woomble finally presenting a much-needed urgency that matches the instrumentation here.

Other than those two, listeners would have to actively look for actual memorable verses or even choruses. It is always considered unbecoming and certainly unfair to pit artists against their own pasts, especially when they still have the artistic passion to push themselves forwards, as Idlewild does here.

At the same time, it's hard not to think of how massively filled with memorable parts their earliest records were. Forget how 100 Broken Windows had literally no moments that weren't immediately hummable, whether instrumentally or vocally; 2005's Warning/Promises managed to sustain melodic strength while infusing strong elements of folk music and classic rock, while The Remote Part was arena indie that sustained the band's prowess while sounding broader and ambitious.

The fairest way to judge Interview Music is to see it as a bridge Idlewild needs and is obviously excited to walk over. That the excitement in producing may not necessarily translate into our listening pleasure is the price to pay for an Idlewild in motion. (ste)