GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is a pharmaceutical company based out of London, and as of 2019, they were the sixth largest in the world. Their headquarters in Brenton is a massive glass building, a symbol of contemporary hope for a sleek and robust future. However, GSK has received major backlash for malpractice, promoting drugs for unapproved use, immoral safety reporting, and bribe-based kickbacks to American physicians.
You’re probably asking yourself why I’m starting this album review off with this seemingly unrelated information. Well, Squid, the latest five-piece art punk group out of Brighton, found it important enough to kick off their debut album with a metaphor about it: “As the sun sets on the Glaxo Kline/It’s the only way that I can tell the time.” The massive windowed building is immersed in the pinks and blues of the sunset, and soon enough, the children of this disenfranchised generation will roam the streets, ready for action. So begins Squid’s debut album, Bright Green Field: a lament on all the ailments of our current day and age. Medicinally, socially, environmentally, through entertainment and politics, propaganda and personal reflection. It’s apparent that over the next 54 minutes, no stone will be left unturned.
Squid is a five-piece post-punk band from Brighton who, as of last year, are signed to the immeasurably eclectic Warp Records. With a sound paying homage to the art punk stylings of the New York underground, with equal nods to Midwestern Emo and the English proto-industrial movement, Squid sounds like the lovechild of the Talking Heads and Throbbing Gristle, being raised in part by Modest Mouse and Godspeed, You! Black Emperor. Toss in a little dance punk a la LCD Soundsystem and you have the culmination of everything this year’s post-punk explosion has been striving for.
All the different flavors of indie, alt rock, art punk, new and no wave they take influence from intermingle in such a grotesque, abrasive way that makes their music so undeniably gripping. Just take the song “2010,” which starts with Hail to the Thief–esque guitars and hushed vocal ramblings before the onslaught of guitars, drums and bass decimate you at the minute and a half mark. The lyrics speak for themselves: “I’m upside down…you’re upside down.” May we never be right side up again.
“Narrator,” the album’s first true epic song, is an 8-minute disjointed takedown on personal perception; in our own headcanons, we all play our part. This song exemplifies early on Squid’s knack for assembling steady grooves, then descending into chaos, and building back up in intensity and volume, until the band and the vocals reach a fever pitch. Lead guitarist/vocalist Louis Borlase has some serious pipes, and while the rest of the band does an incredible job of keeping the momentum going, it’s clear from the get-go that Borlase is here to steal the show. Guest vocalist Martha Skye Murphy offers some spine-tingling rambling deep in the mix, until she’s screaming bloody murder amongst the cacophany. The refrain “I’ll play mine” serves as a repetitive mantra encouraging us to disconnect from reality and live exclusively for the worlds we fabricate for ourselves.
The following track, “Boy Racers,” was clearly written in the Love Shack with the LCD Soundsystem: Borlase’s eccentric vocals give us his best impression of James Murphy who in turn is doing his best impression of the B-52’s Fred Schnieder. A jagged, sauntering boogie fest, “Boy Racers” honors the world’s insomniacs and the dreaded drag racers keeping them up all night. Eventually, the melatonin kicks in. The song’s second half, as if in a dream, floats off into wave after wave of oscillating synth drones. A harrowing night’s sleep seems almost imminent.
“Paddling” is up next, and this time, science fiction propels the lyrical mojo. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing with these lyrics: “There are people inside/And they’re changing in shape and size.” Nobody wants to be part of the assimilation, and just above some outlaw guitars, new wave synths and cheeky laser sounds, the lyrics get downright desperate: “don’t push me in!”/“I don’t wanna go there” (Borlase is, naturally, screaming every line at the top of his lungs. His presence on every track is scintillating.)
Bass and brass player Laurie Nankivell has room to shine all over the album, but “Documentary Filmmaker ” is him at his brightest. There are clear influences from Radiohead’s Kid A and Bon Iver’s latest stream of albums as subtle guitar work sinks just underneath the horns, taking charge of the song’s first leg. Add a subdued vocal delivery by Borlase and a slinky, jazz lounge twilight zone vibe is established, just before everything slows down and gets wonky, only to explode again. Borlase is screaming his lungs out by the second verse; he was warm in the summer, and the heat of his vocals makes that eerily apparent.
Moving away from the summer’s heat, we have “Peel St.” An allusion to author Anna Kevan’s 1999 novel Ice, the song intertwines the themes of environmental catastrophe with civil disobedience and ignorance: “Where were you when the ice came to town/where were you when the ice came around?/you don’t remember? You don’t remember.” Squid isn’t afraid to call us out for silencing our inner critical thinker. We won’t give a shit about climate change until the Arctic ice washes through our front doors.
By the end of the album, Squid are tired. Not in the sense that they sound bored, but in the sense that they’ve tried opening our eyes to the harshness and brutality of our world, and we as the audience may or may not truly take any of it to heart. The life of an artist in an attempt to influence the masses is draining. If I were Squid, I wouldn’t go outside either. The world is a pretty scary place. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to be hopeful. Behind the gnawing and thrashing, there’s always safety in assuming that of everything you threw at the wall, there’s a good chance something will stick. In the case of Squid, much like the sunction-cup wielding animal they’re named after, it’s almost guaranteed.