It’s been a couple of years since Squid’s breakout single ‘Houseplants’, an expertly organized mess of post-punk and jazz, but the band formed in Brighton has pushed their experimentation and genre-dabbling to a whole new level on their debut Bright Green Field.
The first single, ‘Narrator’, is a sprawl of shrieking instrumentals, cryptic song writing, and smooth groove, packed beautifully over just over eight minutes. The second is ‘Paddling’, a slightly more repetitive track that builds in tempo, with a slick, shifting synth which sums up the band’s iconic unpredictability perfectly.
Throughout the entirety of Bright Green Field is a sense of euphoric delirium, spearheaded by the frantic vocal performances of frontman Ollie Judge. His dramatic entrance on the album’s second track ‘G.S.K.’ — the first is more of an intro, lacking vocals and consisting of ambient samples – sets the album’s tone perfectly, and the track as a whole does as well with its use of field recordings in tandem with the band’s eclectic instrumental.
The slow breakdown of ‘Boy Racers’ was a surprise on first listen. The first half of the track isn’t especially stand out, consisting of their usual fast-paced, slightly panicked flavour of post-punk, but it devolves in the second half, dissolving into a slowed, ambient synth over which vocals can be heard, distorted and cryptic. The synth bends and warps, seemingly independent to how the song started, resembling a highly amplified Eno or Aphex Twin in Selected Ambient Works Volume II.
The minimal strings and brass on ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ seem to promise something a little low-key for Squid, perhaps cutting down on the adrenaline, but this doesn’t last long. Judge returns to explode with his belting, screaming that it was “Warm in the summer/But it was snowy in February”, with his passion eventually fading as the track lulls, returning to its previous state.
‘The Flyover’ is a short brass interlude, with some spoken samples thrown in, although it’s unclear of their origin — they could easily be minute clips from old television shows as recordings from coffee shops.
‘Peel St.’ is odd, almost blending in with ‘Narrator’ and the first half of ‘Boy Racers’, which links my singular criticism of Bright Green Field: despite the band’s infinite number of influences, they tend towards a somewhat predictable formula on a few tracks. Keep in mind this is solely for these few tracks — every other track is incredibly distinct. Perhaps the choice of ‘Narrator’ as a single caused this to be more noticeable.
The outro track, ‘Pamphlets’, is the culmination of the entire album, with Judge reduced to a melancholy state – he sings ‘I don’t go outside, I don’t go outside’ – in spite of a mania earlier in the track. Squid runs its course here, with a transcendent display of technical ability, synths, and delirious lyricism, leaving you with a delightfully eclectic work to reflect on.
Squid’s debut album constantly twists and turns, even if it verges on predictability through unpredictability at times in spite of itself. It is zanier than its contemporaries, with Black Country, New Road seeming low-key in comparison. They’ve lived up to the promise made with ‘Houseplants’, and gone far, far beyond it.
Pale Green Field releases on the 7th of May. You can pre-order it here.