Album Review: Bright Green Field – Squid
Squid’s debut record is a genre-defying display of unbridled creativity and chaos
To quote Yeats, things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. From Black Midi to Black Country, New Roads, almost all the most interesting bands of the roaring twenties seem to be embracing the chaos of the world around us, mad scientists as concerned with blending distant genres like ambient psychedelic jazz with noisy, dissonant post-punk. Yet Brighton-quintet Squid are a tad different from their peers. Not just in their wacky genre combinations or painfully innovative song-writing, but something more abstract, fundamentally harder to pin down. Behind the thick bass lines, sour guitar leads and yelping vocals that have thus defined this wave of music, Squid have something that their peers don’t have up their slimy, tentacle-y sleeves. Something that sets them apart, that could almost be their USP. That something is very simple in fact: Squid sound fun.
It’s there in the name, right? Squid. Forget chaotic and mindboggling Japanese meme genres and ominous multi-word titles; this is a band that has only gone and named themselves after an aquatic sea creature that can be turned into calamari. It matches their sound perfectly; distinctive yes, but also just very strange and almost amusing. Where Black Midi or BCNR sound on the verge of a very public mental breakdown, Squid’s new album sounds quirky and weird and, on occasion, joyful. Take the angular and oddly hypnotic single ‘Paddling’, where Ollie Judge’s deadpan vocals contrast hilariously with the twangy guitars, or the funky grooves on ‘Boy Racers’, where the band sing about being a “teen girl fantasy” before the track descends into head-pounding layers of ambient synth, an experimental misfire that at least lands the punchline by being the least sexy of all the music genres. Even anxiety jam ‘Peel St.’ has more than a little colour to its krautrock flavour.
All the songs exhibit an industrial claustrophobia, more cityscape than sprawling rural expanse
For an album called Bright Green Fields, almost all the songs exhibit an industrial claustrophobia, more cityscape than sprawling rural expanse. In many respects this is just further evidence that their deep-sea namesake is a success; not only are both unique and bizarre, but both are masters of disguise. Although they camouflage themselves beneath a veneer of fun if snarky social realism, mind-boggling track transitions, and eccentric vocal lines, Squid still dwell on the dystopic bleakness of modern life as much as any of their peers.
This becomes more apparent as the album progresses. Although the first proper track of the record ‘G.S.K’ explores the dominating presence of a British pharmaceutical company in day to day live (there is the largely redundant opening instrumental ‘Resolution Square’, but it’s unmemorable as it is brief), it’s easy to write it off as oddball experimentation, especially because the existence of GlaxoSmithKline is a hardly common conversation starter. Perhaps it’s also because the combination of smooth jazz with synth and guitar passages that evoke the early nineties Madchester scene lure the listener into a false sense of security, the alienating lyrics just a feature of the angular presentation. Likewise, the sonic odyssey that is the lead single ‘Narrator’ is such a varied display of styles and pure talent that it’s easy to get caught up in the manic energy of it all, rather than the introspective musings on selfhood at play lyrically.
In fact, Squid’s sheer resistance to any sort of static label is perhaps the album’s biggest flaw. Bright Green Fields is record that takes a while to wrap your head around. Vibrant guitar passages giving way to prog-rock-esque horns in the midst of a gnarly post-punk track about urban angst hardly makes for easy listening. But after a while the meanings and themes and concepts all click together, particularly past the midpoint. ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ is the album’s first truly harrowing song, with intricate guitar passages and eerie horns underlying a haunting if subtle narrative about Judge’s experiences on anorexia wards in hospital. This bleeds into ‘2010’, where a cacophony voices descend into a demonic climax of distorted noise rock before pulling back to the uncomfortable stripped-back nether of the verses. ‘Global Groove’s percussion meanwhile has a swaggering, pounding stomp to it, the soul-crushing patterns of life reflected in the rigid beat and world-weary lyrics: “Watch your favourite war on TV / Just before you go to sleep”. But it is really the closer, ‘Pamphlets’, that ties everything together, a raging rip-roaring attack on right-wing propaganda complete with some of the most inventive production on the record, proving the old epitaph “best till last” still holds true to this day.
The legacies of Talking Heads and Gang of Four are tattooed onto their music like swirls of inks in water
Okay, so perhaps when I described Squid as fun, I using the wrong word. The truth is I don’t think there is one singular word which could summarise Squid. They’re far too angular, obscure and innovative for any of that. They resist definition. The legacies of Talking Heads and Gang of Four are tattooed onto their music like swirls of inks in water, yet they still manage to be distinctive; they are their own sea beast after all. Perhaps that’s the highest praise I can give them. Not all the experiments pay-off, but it’s never boring, never less than thrilling. They are not for everyone granted. Like their peers, they are musical marmite, with the emphasis on the umami. But that’s okay. Squid are Squid, and for all their eccentricity, in today’s world of mainstream musical gentrification, that is more than enough.