Wednesday, May 5th, 2021
Bright Green Field
By Caleb Campbell
Over the latter half of the 2010s, Britain has secured its place as the home for wiry post-punk theatrics. 2021 has proved no exception thus far, with new records from Goat Girl, Shame, and fellow newcomers Black Country, New Road. Finally, Brighton’s Squid have released their long-awaited debut album. But even putting the band into that scene boxes them in somewhat. Squid’s origins actually lie in jazz; jazz’s improvisatory spirit and free-ranging song structures are the greatest animus behind the band’s full-length debut, Bright Green Field.
The band’s story thus far has been one of constant progression and experimentalism. While listeners can point to genre signifiers such as angular post-punk guitars, jazzy sax lines, hypnotic Krautrock rhythms, or textured post-rock soundscapes, none encompass the ambitions behind Bright Green Field. The songs twist and contort into unknown shapes, at times working into a barely controlled frenzy, at others descending into minimal ambient passages or spoken word interludes.
Yet the band does a remarkable job of maintaining a cohesive sound and set of aesthetics across the album, even when it goes down heretofore unexplored pathways. A multi-phased centerpiece like “Narrator” or “Pamphlets” could easily run into monotonous repetition or aimless chaos. Yet Squid drives forward with a singular purpose and intensity. When “Narrator” shifts between a strutting groove and howling labyrinths of instrumentation, the elements coalesce beautifully over its eight minutes, the product of carefully considered writing behind the free-wheeling instrumental approach.
Not every song operates in this sprawling mode, but the ones that take tighter approaches are no less anarchic or exploratory. The band doesn’t stay circumscribed to the standard post-punk instrumentation or genre forms. “Global Groove” deploys post-rock ambiance over jazzy sax lines straight out of film noir. Meanwhile, the tight grooves of “Documentary Filmmaker” turn hazy, falling out of synch until the track shifts into an amorphous ambient section, ending on a synth drone and twinkling keys melody. Though these songs trend toward more concise statements, the band’s influences are no less eclectic or experimental than on a multi-staged epic such as “Boy Racers.”
Much like the music, the band’s lyrical visions are often dense, abstract, and impressionistic. “G.S.K.” revels in the contradictions between natural and urban imagery, with bright neon bikes standing side by side with hillside mosquito nets on a concrete island. Meanwhile, the manic tension of “Paddling” is matched with equally demented imagery. Drummer/vocalist Oliver Judge sounds wired and anxious as he yelps, “There are people inside/They’re changing in shape and in size/Where you going?/Don’t want to go there/You comb your hair and you tense the muscle.”
The band probe deep into harsh concrete dystopias, finding dark and surreal corners in mundane life. The figures inside their oppressive cityscape often seem on the verge of being overcome by everyday horrors. The jazzy brass breakdowns of “Global Groove” address the dystopian present most directly as it invites the listener to numb themself to get through the day—“Watch your favorite war on TV/Just before you go to sleep/And then your favorite sitcom/Watch the tears roll down your cheek/Global Groove/Global Groove/I’m so sick and tired of dancing/I’m so sick and tired of dancing.” Yet that numbing can become a strange comfort. On “Pamphlets,” the insular world ends up the safest path—“Pale teeth and white smiles/They don’t care and I don’t mind/Pale bricks and wide smiles/That’s why I don’t go outside.” Squid’s concrete visions are depressingly true to life, adding a dark element of commentary to the band’s neurotic instrumentals.
Squid accomplishes an impressive feat of ambition with Bright Green Field, pushing past genre confines to craft something singular, thoughtful, and captivating. While the commitment to reinvention results in an album that’s less instantly accessible than the band’s early singles, the record remains unexpectedly cohesive as the band dives deep into their decaying urban landscapes and experiments with their most eccentric impulses. Squid’s relentless boundary pushing brings a sense of exploration and collaboration, a wild joy as if the band are mad scientists bringing a bizarre new creation to life. And this is only the band’s debut. In a crowded field of contemporaries, Bright Green Field puts Squid among the best. (www.squidband.uk)
Author rating: 9/10
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