It feels like the name Squid has been circulating around the music blogosphere for half a decade at this point. The band has maintained an almost elusive aura, only sparking further intrigue with every subsequent single and EP released. What’s more, the music they were trickling out to the public evaded any surefire categorization, to a point where critics and enthusiasts alike have piled them with other oddball U.K. groups as something they call “New Weird Britain” — which is just a fancy way of saying “unclassifiable guitar music from across the pond.” Although, if we’re to take this niche seriously, the associated bands are certainly making a statement this year with shame and Black Country, New Road already releasing critically hailed projects. However, if there is any record that people were expecting from this supposed subgenre, it is Squid’s debut.
Bright Green Field follows the pattern of the music Squid has been teasing up until now, which is that it doesn’t really follow any pattern at all. Without a doubt, there will be people who simply call it art rock and move on, but that would be a strong generalization of what the band manages to construct. Bright Green Field is an album so dedicated to the concept of “no idea is a bad idea” that it fully commits itself to throw everything at the wall. Naturally, this is quite a risky endeavor, and for the less prepared, this surely would have been an unmitigated mess. Fortunately, it would seem the last five years have properly conditioned Squid. Bright Green Field successfully avoids the pitfalls of such a process and amounts to one of the most unique rock albums this year, and on their first go no less.
Of course, Squid’s inspirations come through clearly — Talking Heads and Pere Ubu are two that come to mind — but it’s the instability of how these influences are combined and transfigured that demonstrates the group’s originality. For example, the track “Boy Racers” starts with a groove and adds layers of guitar riffs into something both upbeat and off-kilter. Much like some of the other lengthy tracks on the album, it builds pace and alters itself several times, but then gives out abruptly halfway through into something that can only be described as if Throbbing Gristle decided to take up vaporwave. It’s unbelievably bold, totally irrational and expertly executed. Another track that follows this mold is “2010,” with its complex guitar patterns — sounding straight out of In Rainbows-era Radiohead — that switch to all-out thrash metal on a dime. It’s one of the best songs on the album, acting as a perfect centerpiece to the chaos.
Lyrically speaking, Squid likes to keep things compact and esoteric. It’s a bit of a nebulous effort to try and decipher some larger connected meaning. However, an overarching theme of corporate mundanity and its stale purposelessness does pop up across the album. The track “Narrator” describes the desire to dictate one’s direction in society, with vocalist Oliver Judge chanting out to the world “I’ll play my part” as if expecting some universal reply. The song “G.S.K.” is a direct reference to the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and goes on to create devastating imagery about a “Concrete Island.” This strange duality between the bombastic fun of the music and the crushing core of the lyrics contributes a certain mood to the album as if someone took a happy face and stapled the smile in place. Perhaps the Bright Green Field they are referring to is actually astroturf.
When it was announced that Squid was signing to legendary electronic label Warp, it only added to the immense anticipation that the band had already accrued. Warp has built a reputation for signing non-electronic groups just as they make their big breakout into the musical landscape; they did it for Grizzly Bear, Danny Brown, Battles, Stereolab, Broadcast, Yves Tumor and countless others. With Bright Green Field, Squid is staking their claim as a member of this list.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.