The long-awaited new IDLES album is out on September 25. As I am a massive fan-girl of the band, I had been mulling over how best to review Ultra Mono since it landed in my inbox last week, without sounding like a 12-year-old squealing over her favourite boy band. I realised that I couldn’t because it is truly brilliant. Furthermore, I had a massive urge to talk to someone about it. Immediately, Mr Brian Mimpress, who runs the IDLES fan group the AFGANG, along with Lindsay Melbourne (Boss) and Louise Hughes (Mum), sprang to mind because I knew he’d had the album a while and that he’s had to keep schtum for a long time. Never one to shy away from controversy, I wanted to hear Brian’s thoughts.
For those not a member of the AFGANG, it is way more than your average fan group. It is a place where all is love, where you are free to share your problems, your anxieties, your joys and everything in between and you will only receive support in return—no judgments, no toxicity. Brian has kept fans entertained every weekday morning by telling us about his bus journey to work. His blend of quick wit, creativity, passion and integrity has us all hooked. We look forward to hearing what he’s got on his headphones and who is on the bus with him today. Did he get his AAA (the best seat on the bus)? It’s a real-life soap opera of nonsense of epic proportions. Everyone remembers where they were when a passenger’s apple made an escape and rolled the length of the aisle. The tension was almost unbearable.
I convinced Brian to chat to me about Ultra Mono and his IDLES journey so far.
LS: Morning Brian, thank you for joining me, it is an honour to be virtually in your Goth Kitchen where all the magic happens. Before we get on to your new-found role of chat show host, tell us about how you discovered IDLES, was it before Brutalism?
BM: About a month before the album dropped. I think for the first time In my life it felt like I was falling out of love with music. My days were long, my head was in a continuous dark cloud and I couldn’t step out of it. Music was the only thing that had comforted me in my life without wanting anything in return or at least that’s how it felt.
One dark, cold and wet Monday morning, the gods of Spotify decided I might like to listen to a song that I hadn’t heard before. That song was “Mother”. Everything changed. The album arrived four weeks later; I hadn’t looked forward to a new album to land for years. As corny as it sounds, that album healed me, changed me and gave me everything.
LS: It was about that time in 2017 that the AFGANG was created right? You now have over 30,000 very active members, and it truly is one of the one warmest, most supportive corners of the internet. It has literally saved lives, that must be a proud achievement?
BM: Yeah, Boss, with the help of Mum, started the group in March 2017, I joined within a few days, member number 12 I recall, and got stuck in…it took almost a year for us to reach 1000 members, we couldn’t believe we had so many…now it’s crazy, beautiful and crazy. Boss, Mum and I just steered the ship, it was the members that made it what it was. Unity is everything.
LS: How has it changed your life in the last three years?
BM: F*ck, it’s given me my life back, as stupid as that may sound. I write in the AFG each morning; I’ve been doing that for two years now. I’d never written anything in my life before. I’m amazed people like to read my brain dumps. I have the biggest friendship group now I’ve ever had. I hate to think where I would be today if it wasn’t for IDLES and The AFG. That’s a horrible thought.
LS: And from this, you have become close to the band yourself?
BM: Close-ish. I remember when I first spoke to them all, which was just to thank them for making a wonderful album that saved me. Forcing myself out of the comfort zone of my house to go and see them meant I met a lot of faces regularly, of which they (the band) were some too. They have always been very welcoming to me and supportive of the AFG. Close to the band? I’ve got all their mobile numbers. Yours for £25 each?
LS: Tenner? I think it’s fair to say that the band respects your honesty and authenticity with them, and you have had Ultra Mono for some time now because of that. What are your feelings on the album now that you’ve really been able to absorb it?
BM: It’s the album they were born to make. Its the IDLES sound, they have now found it. There couldn’t have been Ultra Mono without the first two. You can hear where this album has come from and how it’s been born from the first two. Musically, they have learnt so much, and they have upped their game with this album. Talbot too is on fire, not just lyrically, but vocally you can hear he has given us everything.
LS: I totally agree, you can hear it in every element of the album, just how meaningful it is to them all. The 2021 European tour has been announced, with many UK dates selling out super fast. Will we see you at the gigs and where do you think the boys are heading popularity-wise?
BM: F*ck, I’m the wrong person to ask. I used to have conversations about this long before Joy As An Act of Resistance arrived with Mum (Louise). I was convinced they would never get bigger than the venues on that Brutalism tour, “it’s too shouty. The masses will never get it.” How wrong I was! 2021 tour, London, Sheffield hopefully a few more. I can feel Paris calling me again. The last time there was beautiful.
LS: Ah yes, the Bataclan gig, that was something else. I am well jel. How many IDLES gigs have you been to roughly?
BM: Most of the time I don’t even remember how old I am.. No idea, somewhere between ten and forty? I stopped counting long ago. Your guess is as good as mine.
LS: What is your greatest IDLES memory so far?
BM: So many gigs: Hebden Bridge, Southend Seafront, my hometown, was special. Dublin. I think my highlight if I had to pick one was being asked by the band if I would like to interview them all live on YouTube the week the Bataclan footage got released. It gave birth to the Goth Kitchen. Like writing, I’d never interviewed anyone before and I’m probably sh*t at it but I love to do it so much.
LS: You are a natural at interviewing people! That week of you chatting with them all was really special. It was at the height of lockdown and it picked up the spirits of so many people, having something to look forward to every evening. The band were on form; it was wonderful to get that personal with them in the comfort of their own homes, while we were in ours.
You introduced me to my current favourite band DITZ too when I heard they were next up to talk to you. So thank you for that.
So, let’s talk about Ultra Mono, track by track.
BM: I hate it only because they have written a better album opener than “Heal”, the bastards. It’s a massive track to start album three… It sets the tone, tells you to get ready and hold on tight.
LS: I absolutely agree, IDLES have always been building up to this it feels. Getting their army together, so to speak, but this is it now. It is time to fight back against our Governments who are literally killing us, the people they are supposed to protect. It’s a call to arms. I can picture Joe all dressed up like Jon Snow (Joe Snow?), leading his army on the battlefield, the troops cheering his inspirational fighting talk. It changes tone towards the end though, and I had never really noticed it before, but after the band covered “Reptilia” by The Strokes at Abbey Road a few weeks back and said that they brought IDLES together, I can hear their influence at the end of “War”. No complaints from me, I love The Strokes. Oh and Beavis’ drumming on this is sublime.
BM: What can I say about this track that hasn’t already been said? Can you imagine how good it’s going to sound live with a room of thousands in full chorus?
LS: It is is going to be immense! It is such a great track, and I think it’s one that broke the barrier into the mainstream, kind of. The only reason I say this is because I wrote about it when it came out and I had a few football journalist types telling me what a great song it was. They weren’t wrong, but it felt like the moment the rest of the world took notice. It’s down to that slow, “hip-hoppy” (sorry, had to) beat, I think, which makes it more accessible to people who aren’t usually into punk, but its pace doesn’t lose the momentum—if anything, its bold and clear statement was precisely what the world needed to hear. As a single, it was released in perfect timing as an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, though unintentionally. The lyrics “Do you hear that thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers. I am I. Unify”. So simple, so effective.
BM: Still don’t know why I couldn’t be arsed to send in a clip for the video. Oh the regrets.
LS: You would have looked great in a leotard with that magnificent beard. I really love this track. The first single release, of course, so it came with that extra excitement of brand newness. While I wasn’t in the video, I did spend a few days right at the beginning of lockdown dancing like a tit in 80s workout gear. I had no clue what the song sounded like, all I knew was the tempo, so The Cure’s “A Forest” was played on repeat for days. Such great memories considering the world was falling apart and none of us were allowed out. I can’t not dance to it now when I hear it; the guitars make your arse wiggle.
BM: Love the guitar line that runs through this but am I allowed to say it’s my least fav track from the album? F*ck it, I just said it.
LS: I agree with you, it is a great track and I think if it was on Brutalism it might have a different effect. I think it’s because we’ve been spoilt with this new sound from IDLES. It’s always been there, but on Ultra Mono they’ve perfected it. Like you know a Nine Inch Nails track from one second of music because their sound is so unmistakably their own, IDLES have done that too and fine-tuned it for Ultra Mono. “Anxiety” sounds more OG IDLES, and now we’re used to tracks like “Colossus”, “Mercedes Marxist”, “Grounds” and “War” that change direction several times throughout and aren’t your standard punk tracks at all. It’s difficult to pigeonhole IDLES into any genre, and that’s a good thing.
Kill Them With Kindness
BM: Oh, that Jamie Cullum intro. A lovely soothing piano before Talbot arrives and bites your f*cking head off.
LS: Yes! Perfect, like we’re about to settle down to watch Tom Hanks in Big. But seriously, it leads you to think that this is going to be a ballad, then kicks you in the balls. I love Joe’s vocals on this track, he sounds a little like Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon, hitting those high notes with his gritty tone. Don’t tell him I said that. I can see the t-shirt now. “Kill Them With Kindness” has such a swagger. Clearly it’s an ode to the critics and other bands who try to drag them down. It always backfires though, as IDLES have such a great sense of humour and genuinely believe in what they sing about. There is no virtue signalling, no matter how much some people want there to be.
BM: The song that Blur wish they had the balls to make.
LS: Ha! I joked about “Model Village” being their “Parklife” or “Country House”, but it’s a million miles away from that in reality. It’s such a catchy tune that I almost want to dislike it—it is certainly the song I’ve heard played on the radio the most. But I can’t hate it because it’s brilliant and stuck in my head pretty much repeatedly lately. It is another track that is going to be bananas live.
Ne Touche Pas Moi
BM: It’s French, you know, featuring Miss Jehnny Beth (Johnny & Jehnny, Savages). She gets everywhere. It’s a solid tune. Lee’s guitar work in it is legendary. Miss Beth’s appearance in the chorus is excellent.
LS: This track is growing on me. Jehnny Beth’s vocal alongside Joe’s is just perfect; they both have that sexy throatiness that works so well together. It is going to be a stormer for women in the crowd—for everyone in the crowd—but with the feminine vocal, and the chant of “Consent!” in the chorus, women will likely relate to the sentiment of “don’t touch me” while Joe demands that we have space to dance. A solid tune is an accurate way of putting it, I agree.
BM: Such a fucking tune. It’s classic IDLES in every way. I love this tune so so much. I love Talbot’s lyrics in this track; so so him.
LS: Yep, this track begins my favourite spell of the album. The 50s surf guitar twang, Dev’s bassline, the tempo, all building up to a crescendo of noise leading into Joe’s almost crooning vocal in the chorus, such a great track. I love it more and more with every listen too. It feels as urgent as “Holiday in Cambodia”, and again, I hear The Strokes influence in the chorus, it’s a beautiful thing.
BM: The best track on the album. No further comment. It’s everything.
LS: I wholeheartedly agree with you, this track is absolutely blinding. It doesn’t sound like Nine Inch Nails, but I mention them again, for the feeling I get listening to “Reigns” is the same massive power rush that I get when I listen to “We’re In This Together”, one of my favourite NIN tracks. “Reigns” is IDLES at their most industrial sounding. Jon Beavis is a machine gun on the drums, it’s so good I have this urge to squeeze his face. Poor Jon. Bowen and Lee’s guitar sounds pull your guts out; it’s so dark and nasty. I love it. Then you’ve got Joe bellowing “Pull my reigns” right in your face. I imagine I’ll look like the old woman in Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy” video as that thing screams in her face when we experience this live. I might go so far as saying this is the best song IDLES have ever done. I am completely obsessed with it.
BM: The track I had to go back and listen to a lot when I first got the album. It’s definitely Talbot’s reaction to the haters. Eat shit.
LS: Another great track, carrying on the industrial sound from “Reigns”, which is terrific because they definitely could have made it more of a cheeky punk track along the lines of “Never Fight a Man With a Perm”, but while Joe’s lyrics don’t pull any punches, they are fun and funny, the music is deadly serious. I can see this one being stretched out live, and Bobo having a field day while Jon’s arms fall off.
BM: Just beautiful.
LS: This song is so haunting and enchanting, I think it’s my favourite of the singles released so far. Joe wears his heart on his sleeve as always, as he sings through a grey fog of insecurities, regrets and melancholy. Whether it’s relationships, fame, friendships, whatever, you will make them and lose them, and you carry that shame with you. Gorgeous guitars sound like ghosts wailing as the bass sighs. Dev’s call of “we made it” breaks my heart. It hurts when something dies, even if it was the right time.
I don’t know why but the video for “A Hymn” chokes me up every time. It’s each member of the band with a parent (or grandparent in Devs case), driving to Tesco. Why is that sentimental to me? Is it because I love Tesco so much and spend half of my life there? Possibly, but probably more about the importance of loving your elders, especially poignant during the COVID-19 pandemic, which I think put everyone on edge worrying about their older relatives. It’s been a tough time, hasn’t it? “A Hymn” is humbling.
BM: The track that will replace “Rottweiler” live for sure at the end of their sets and will probably go on for a good 20 minutes or so. Beautiful noise.
LS: We end on a happy note! A massive surge of sound, building up and up until you are immersed in it. You just know it’s going to go off the second that funky little riff at the beginning kicks in. It is the perfect ending, and I believe Joe is absolutely right; true love will find you in the end.
There are going to be a lot of delighted IDLES fans when they hear Ultra Mono, I reckon. The band look comfortable, like they’ve all found their sound individually and brought it together. Unified, they are a machine that just cannot be stopped.
Thank you Brian for listening along with me, that was a beautiful experience. Now I couldn’t chat to you from the Goth Kitchen without turning the tables a little bit, so before we say goodbye, it’s time for the quickfire round!
Go, go, go!
LS: Your favourite IDLES track?
BM: Heel / Heal.
LS: Tell us a band/artist we need to listen to.
BM: Will Young.
LS: Pet hate?
BM: Caged birds.
LS: Now, I don’t know if you mean you hate birds being in a cage or if they are a pet you hate?!
LS: Queen or Sleaford Mods?
BM: Fuck off, how can I answer that?! Sleaford Mods have to go, only because if Queen hadn’t have happened, the album Bellybutton by Jellyfish wouldn’t have been written and that album is one of the finest albums ever made.
LS: Correct answer.
LS: Favourite Film?
BM: True Romance.
LS: Excellent choice.
LS: I have to ask you a Twin Peaks question. Audrey Horne or Shelly Johnson?
BM: Fuck again!! Audrey, no Shelly, no Audrey, can I have both please?
LS: Best IDLES gig you’ve been to?
BM: If I had to pick one, Hebden Bridge, YOWL on support, the whole weekend was fabulous.
LS: Elvis Presley or Elvis Costello?
BM: Presley, there would be no Costello if it wasn’t for Presley.
LS: Dream person to have in the Goth Kitchen?
BM: Talbot again. I’d like him in weekly, like a mini round-up regardless of where in the world he was.
LS: I’m sure he’ll be back in the GK soon!
LS: And, saving the most important question for last, Marmite, yes or no?
BM: I bathe in the stuff.
LS: Sorry, incorrect answer. Thank you Brian for this wonderful chat. It has been a real pleasure.
So there we have it in black and white. Brian Mimpress smells like Twiglets.