From the singles released so far, we thought that we knew generally what we were getting from Squid's debut album, Bright Green Field. Even though there was a perpetual sense of chaos, there was a loose formula to the Brighton post-punk band’s pre-release tracks. They would generally start unhinged with a mechanical motorik funk and mastery of subtle melodies and eventually ascend into a deranged squawking schizoid blowout. It turns out we were wrong, the very unpredictability we thought we could predict somehow eluded our predictions. As debut albums go, Bright Green Field is a bold opening gambit, the fearless experimentation contained within ensuring that even when the band settle into a groove, the listener is never allowed to. Even when you find yourself involuntarily moving to a beat, it is always in the knowledge that something evil is never more than a semitone away.
Together with a host of other bands primarily on the Speedy Wunderground label, Squid are a part of a new offshoot of British rock music which is so uncompromising that no one has even settled on a definitive name for it yet. Having released their debut E.P. on Speedy Wunderground, Bright Green Field is released on UK experimental powerhouse Warp Records, and this raised profile and presumably budget has allowed the true scope of their vision to be realised. “G.S.K.” locks into its infectious pattern without delay, a lazy riff stretching out over an insistent beat punctuated by drum machine stabs while drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge re-imagines city terrains as a dystopian explorer, somewhere between the mind maps of Guy Debord and the fatalistic sci-fi visions of H.G. Wells. Lofty literary references out of the way, these psychogeographical notions are explored frequently throughout the album. “G.S.K.” takes a brief synth interlude before a saxophone impudently slinks in to open up those dopamine receptors. Squid are happy to play around with an idea for a few seconds before growing impatient and abandoning it then coming back to it briefly later, albeit a hideously mutated version. One could obviously draw parallels between this and the ever-changing urban landscape we occupy, with H&Ms popping up faster than they can be destroyed.
The paranoia and claustrophobia of the album’s influences, both musical and conceptual, bleed into the tracks until you feel like dancing, fretting, circling a room menacingly or completely giving up according to circumstance. “Boy Racers” channels krautrock and Fugazi flourishes into a focused force concentrating on the anxiety inherent in modern life.
“Were you mangled by a tree?
Were you a teen girl fantasy?
It's not okay that we can't sleep tonight
With boy racers in our dreams at night”
“Documentary Filmmaker” begins with a muted horn arrangement from Black Country, New Road’s Lewis Evans which gradually transforms from analogue to digital with an almost spoken word piece about a documentary filmed in a hospital incidentally thrown on top as one might toss a bomber jacket on a chair. This is one of the calmer tracks on the album, but it still cheerfully instils a deep sense of unease. Seemingly wholesome melodies and harmless lyrics betray something wrong on every conceivable level, which keeps you on your toes nicely.
The band takes a synth stab at industrial on “Peel St”, beginning with a dysfunctional machine whirr and morphing into the art-punk creeper Squid have had so many pints of ink spilled over. The track picks up steam so sneakily that you barely realise when it’s at primal level and you’ve somehow smashed your Xbox. “Global Groove” is the first track to tackle current issues explicitly. Any previous conscious moments were as oblique as possible, delivered with a knowing wink and a temple tap. The lyrics tackle the 24-hour news cycle and the sense of detachment we feel when viewing foreign wars over a tribal thud which gives way to rousing, mournful horns. This track seems to be the moment the anxiety on the previous tracks tips over into grief and rage.
“Watch your favourite war on TV
Just before you go to sleep
And then your favourite sitcom
Watch the tears roll down your cheek”
Bright Green Field is a masterful work, knowing when to wear its influences proudly and when to veer off wildly into its own lane. It’s not hard to make comparisons between Squid and Television playing in a Running Man dive bar, but such comparisons are futile. Squid are their own beast, and in Warp it seems they have found a home for their music which will neither curb nor dampen their wildest indulgences. As long as they keep their output consistent, dystopia seems bearable. Get the album here.