Flat Worms Antarctica album sleeve

Social Distancing in Antarctica With Flat Worms

LA-based garage-punk trio Flat Worms released their new album Antarctica on April 10th on Drag City imprint, GOD? Records. Following up from their 2019 EP release Into the IrisAntarctica is the group’s first studio album since their self-titled debut Flat Worms in 2017.

Engineered by outspoken producer Steve Albini, and mixed at Electrical Audio recording studios in collaboration with Albini and Ty Segall, Antarctica was recorded and mixed in just six days. Albini has, of course, produced albums for some of the best bands in history—Nirvana, The Pixies and The Jesus Lizard to name but a few—and he’s in Shellac, one of my favourite bands of all time. So, we’re off to a good start.

But what about Flat Worms? Well, honestly I hadn’t heard of them until last Friday when a dear friend of mine told me their new album was out. Fast forward six days, and here I am writing about said record. It’s not quite as impressive as recording and mixing an album in that time, but you know what it’s like in lockdown state, it’s hard to muster the energy to go the bathroom, never mind write a whole thing.

Promo image of the band Flat Worms

Flat Worms are guitarist/vocalist Will Ivy (Dream Boys, Wet Illustrated, Bridez), bassist Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sic Alps) and drummer Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies).

It’s almost prophetic that they named their album after one of the safest places to be on the planet right now for optimum social distancing. Aptly, Antarctica is a brittle, brutal, and fair assessment of the predicaments we all find ourselves facing in 2020. Songs of social critique against class disparity, imperialism, capitalism and intentional damage caused to the environment all feature here. Post Covid-19 you would expect these topics to be higher on the agenda than ever.

There’s been a renaissance of ’90s sounds in the last year or two. It was always going to happen, but few of the revivalists have really captured what made grunge vital like these guys. On this record, Flat Worms find that same match strike that fuses the hip-thrust hunger of metal with the swaying trajectory of punk. Nostalgia be damned, this one gets its claws into you, and the twisting is both brutal and glorious all at once.

The band have perfected the art of absolutely filthy garage-rock guitars. Yet, although the sound is thick, ripping and drenched in imposing feedback (that will blow your eardrums if you listen too loud on headphones, take my word for it), there’s something oddly mystical about them. They are not quite a psychedelic band, but not quite garage-rock, post-punk or grunge either—it’s all of those things and more, which is nice. Ivy’s vocals remind me just slightly of very early, post-punk R.E.M. He doesn’t shout or scream, he sort of speak-sings. It’s poetic, and his voice adds that And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead kind of magic.

“The Aughts”, reportedly recorded in one take is propulsive and machine-like, while “Plaster Casts” is like early Wire—Albini’s work here very evident. Elsewhere, “Market Forces” grinds forward unrelentingly, the elegant and simple hooks here getting the job done of making this rock, while “The Mine” reveals a debt owed to the first wave of New Wave bands. If Flat Worms are less interested in reviving a dying form, there’s a sense that material like “Condo Colony” has a timeless quality about it. One which makes it sound faintly like bands separated by decades, from Joy Division to Big Black to Queens of the Stone Age. Title song “Antarctica” gives me all the feels of The Cure’s “Killing an Arab” with a sprinkling of the Dead Kennedys.

I’m not going to keep on naming bands that they sound like though, as to be fair to Flat Worms, their sound is wholly their own, and yes with an influence of so many great, great bands that you can’t really complain about it.

Since picking up Antarctica, I’ve listened to their self-titled debut album, which is also superb. The feedback on the tracks of that album is even more distorted, and the sound is slightly more pop-punk, in the sense that there are more obvious singles to choose from—I’m definitely not talking Blink 182 or Sum 41 here. Antarctica sounds slightly more polished, in the way you might try to polish sandpaper; it’s heavier and more serious, and I hope that means the worms are here to stay.