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O Monolith Zara Hedderman , June 14th, 2023 07:28

The follow-up to Bright Green Field finds the London quintet working on a far broader canvas, finds Zara Hedderman

Not too long ago, Squid’s Ollie Judge and Anton Pearson went for a walk with tQ’s John Doran to explore a neolithic burial site in Wiltshire and expand upon the foundations of O Monolith, the anticipated follow-up to their 2021 debut, Bright Green Field. Pearson posited a striking summation of the work, “We were keen for things surrounding this album not to make too much sense. We were quite attracted to the way that the word monolith does that; it can have ancient and modern connotations quite easily.” His bandmate, vocalist, drummer and chief lyricist, Judge added: “We’re weaving together the present day and folk history.”

These perspectives from the band are fascinating having listened to their latest record on rotation. From the offset, O Monolith is simultaneously familiar and peculiar. With their widely acclaimed debut, Bright Green Field sounded as though the quintet were firmly rooted to their environment in their expression. It felt local, tangible even. These eight songs, however, are resolutely broader propositions that giddily venture further afield. Both in its title and tonality, it’s hard not to think of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when listening to this new chapter in their trajectory.

Squid’s musical evolution is signposted with more synth and brass embellishments, which provide impressive focal points to the cinematic final movement to ‘Undergrowth’ and ‘After The Flash’, in particular. Elsewhere, ‘Siphon Song’ further emphasises the Kubrick sensibility as a robotic presence takes the lead: “My shaky hands in the morning / When I’m being beamed back down / I log onto the website / Where a 2D flame surrounds the building I’m in now.” The song, an undeniable highlight, reaches its climax with an exhilarating ascending instrumentation. It’s hard to come back down from the heights it leaves you.

Squid immediately impressed with their unbridled compositions and live performances in their early days, which culminated in Bright Green Field. Listening to that record, you can truly sense the exhilaration sparking from each member as they meander through arrangements, embracing their inclinations towards improvisational play. It’s not surprising then that the majority of their latest material came from a tour that followed only a few weeks after the release of their debut. Existing as instrumentals for a period, the curiosity of what outcomes they could meet along the way continues to be a captivating element to their dense compositions on their latest work. Perhaps one of the most evident and endearing developments in Squid’s musical stylings is the sophistication and lushness illuminating their brilliantly multi-faceted songs.

When delving into the relationships between present day and folk history, Squid were inspired by a myriad of things from Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 1767 oil painting The Swing to Paul Wright’s film Arcadia from 2018 and its soundtrack by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp. Becoming more interested in the lore of the land where they lived and abstracting their findings with other literature was also hugely informative to the band, as the gothic ‘Devil’s Den’ attests. Amongst the acrobatic instrumentation, vocalist Ollie Judge, too, demonstrates a much more developed and dynamic approach to his performances. ‘Undergrowth’ is one instance that captures his many moods: impassioned, morose, full of regret. The versatility in his delivery, and the effortlessness of his shapeshifting, is yet another exciting signpost for future Squid releases.

Working once again with Dan Carey, the quintet have created something equally as enthralling, complex and, in its own way, as resonant as Bright Green Field. While there are still traces of 1970s influences to be enjoyed across the record, Squid appear to have taken some melodic inspiration from Radiohead on a number of occasions, most notably in the melding of guitar tones and electronic motifs on the commanding opening track ‘Swing (In A Dream)’ and ‘The Blades’, while ‘Decks Dark’’s simultaneously ethereal and unsettling essence looms in ‘Siphon Song’. To a lesser degree, Squid are in sync with their contemporaries, black midi, in the elaborate and explosive ‘Devil’s Den’ and frantic ‘Green Light’. It’s only natural for there to be some crossover between the two given Carey produced black midi’s 2019 debut, Schlagenheim. In this regard, these reference points (Radiohead more so than black midi) extend more of a welcoming hand to anyone still yet to acquaint themselves with Squid.

Certainly, the broadening of Squid’s universe on O Monolith, with the luminous synths and choral accompaniments courtesy of the excellent Shards, are amongst some of the elements that immediately take the listener aback. It’s always interesting to gain the perspectives and insights of the people behind such an explosive and expansive work as O Monolith. The bending of time and place and sights and sounds across this record leaves the listener with plenty to digest and a lot to be excited for with what’s to come from Squid.