O Monolith by Squid review: one of the most sonically cohesive and interesting albums of 2023 so far

What does it mean for an artist to have influences? Of course, to operate under the notion that an artist is able to create a body of work without ever hearing the work of another is asinine, but surely there must be a limit. Where does musical influence bleed into imitation? Interestingly this was a line that Squid were close to walking on their first full-length album, Bright Green Field (2021). The band flaunted their influences, ranging from New Order and Radiohead to their contemporaries like black midi and Black Country, New Road. There were certain instances where it felt like listening to a lost B-side by one of these artists. This is not to suggest there was no unique power or spark to the band, simply that they were operating within the confines of artists that they so clearly admired.

The track ‘Siphon Song’ feels as though there is this intense pressure running throughout it

Thankfully on their stellar follow-up, O Monolith, Squid have fortunately escaped this place. The album serves as a centring of all the sounds that they introduced on their debut album, and across many live tour dates, without feeling any obligation to the work of any of the artists that they admire. This is something that they clearly demonstrate on the opening track and the album’s lead single ‘Swing (In a Dream)’ which is built around this frenetic energy comprising of guitar riffs and cowbells. When Ollie Judge, the band’s frontman, sings “To live inside the frame / And forget everything / A swing inside a dream / And all they’ll do is scream” this anxiety drives the song forward creating the feeling that it might collapse in on itself with the introduction of trumpets and Judge’s screaming. It’s a strange and beautiful direction to take a song about a famous Rococo painting and is part of a direction that marks all of the album, one that is distinct, unique, and uncompromising. 

Fortunately, this newly developed version of Squid is pertinent throughout the entire album. The track ‘Siphon Song’ feels as though there is this intense pressure running throughout it – unsurprising given the name of the song. By halfway through the track different elements almost become entirely intertwined with one another as the pressure builds only to return to the simple more minimal sounds that defined its opening – a light drum pattern, a whirring synth and a simple guitar pattern. Throughout the album, Squid are able to generate these beautiful vignettes within each of the songs – they are able to generate a defined, powerful image that has a pessimism to it but one that undeniably shows that there is an end to these feelings. The pessimism doesn’t swallow the band whole.

The album’s closing track ‘If You Had Seen The Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away’ is a song that feels as though it could only possibly be created by Squid. The opening whispering and the chanting that appears throughout the song are features that would make it work perfectly in a new A24 horror film. However, these are not the only elements that define the song. There is a mixture of the typical elements of Squid: a combination of a muddy, driving bassline, distorted guitar riffs, trumpets, and violins that should be out of place but somehow are able to work perfectly. As the song progresses all these elements are pushed further forward into this driving crescendo before an abrupt ending, leaving the listener in a strange state of limbo – lacking a form of satisfaction or cohesion from the conclusion of the album that the band is deliberately refusing to provide.

O Monolith is a rich experience 

Squid admitted that when they went into making their second album, they were “getting sick of wonky, augmented-diminished guitar lines that all sound angular. We were more excited by the idea of consonance and counterpart. The way in which you can involve several different melodies that has the effect of a singular harmonic movement” as they told DIY Magazine back in February, something they have achieved with ease. O Monolith is a rich experience. The band has fused together their musical influences with the electricity of their early jazz work to deliver a truly powerful album that is able to demonstrate the band’s ability to transform sounds and emotions that may have been, in the hands of a less engaging artist, a cacophonous sludge. Fortunately, Squid are able to avoid these pitfalls and with the output of this new album have been able to deliver one of the most sonically cohesive and interesting albums of 2023 so far.

Recommended listening: ‘Undergrowth’ or ‘Swing (in a dream)’

O Monolith is out on June 9th.




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