Brighton post-punkers Squid elevate the genre on Bright Green Field, our third Album of the Year for 2021.
Perhaps no other album captured the grey, dystopian aura surrounding 2021 than Squid’s Bright Green Field. A dizzying record defined by angular guitars, syncopated rhythms, and the frantic shrieked vocals of frontman Ollie Judge, Bright Green Field is at once a technical masterclass and a visceral vindication of music’s ability to express the inexpressible.
Toyah Jane Stoker, Writer: Despite being a staunch metalhead as of late, Bright Green Field remains my album of the year. The reasons for its brilliance are myriad; whether it’s the charismatic vocal delivery by drummer Ollie Judge, the varied timbre supplied by contemporaries such as saxophonist Lewis Evans; or, indeed, the dynamism and flow both emotional and sonic, spread across the album’s runtime.
There is a confident sense of psychogeography in Bright Green Field; for the opening ambience, the band swung a microphone around a circle of amps playing found street sound to evoke cars rushing down a motorway, while the lyrics of G.S.K. paint the image of a “concrete island” wherein the time is told by the sun’s relation to its monolithic buildings. This scene-setting is not self-indulgent, but applied to create a short-story collection of different perspectives (building on the style of Squid’s 2020 EP, Town Centre, and its character songs such as The Cleaner). In Narrator, guest-singer Martha Skye Murphy “plays [her] part” as an imagined love interest, the song being an illustration of how women are expected to conform to the desires of men, while in Documentary Filmmaker, a bedbound individual in hospital bitterly observes the coming and going of the titular figure, who believes they can immerse themself in the speaker’s pain, but can never truly experience it.
This is without even mentioning the virtuosic musicianship displayed by the other members. Thanks to electronic musician Arthur Leadbetter, Squid throws plenty of innovation into the ring with Bright Green Field, more so than any of their contemporary UK indie brethren. The breakdown into electronic noise in Boy Racers isn’t just a sonic subversion but an emotional sledgehammer that forces the listener to meditate on the grim topic of a teenage motorway accident.
“The breakdown into electronic noise in Boy Racers isn’t just a sonic subversion but an emotional sledgehammer…”
While the album touches on darker topics there, it is far from the only string to its bow. The album also possesses an accessible banger in the mutated Talking Heads pastiche of Paddling, and concludes with the uplifting and vibrant Pamphlets; a song whose main refrain is, fittingly for our lockdown era, “that’s why I don’t go outside”. This album, as a whole, strikes that delectable and vital balance between relevance to the zeitgeist, and relevance to the human condition itself. Whatever scale you use to rate albums, this one gets a rare full marks from me.
Daniel Strathdee, Writer: The resurgence of post-punk and experimental rock, a movement largely helmed by a small but closely interwoven group of UK bands, has quietly been pushing the sound of rock’s underground into new heights of popularity and relevance. 2021 saw plenty of notable releases from several bands both new and established, with Black Midi’s Cavalcade and Black Country, New Road’s For the First Time being two of the most anticipated albums of the year. However, no album came close to covering the sheer sonic breadth and emotional potency of Squid’s Bright Green Field, a sprawling and incredibly bold debut that not only covers a colossal number of genre bases from the harsh, noise-tinted post-hardcore of the 90s to the gentle, mellifluous indie rock of the 2010s, but underpins itself with foundations of modern alienation and political agency.
From the cacophonous jazz of G.S.K. to the bursting-at-the-seams energy of Peel St, Squid’s predilections for flouting genre conventions make for an innovative album that feels equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Bright Green Field is a rollercoaster of momentum that doesn’t give any hints as to its next direction. And it would be remiss not to mention the gleefully chaotic vocals of Ollie Judge, who is as much a part of the band’s sound as the instruments and just as delightfully crazed and deranged. But in spite of its sonic mayhem, Bright Green Field is still an album anchored by its intelligent sense of empathy and an awareness of its place within the zeitgeist. Final track Pamphlets serves as the culmination of these ideas, an emotionally charged closer full of disillusionment and anxiety but equally cathartic and comforting. It’s rare that a band at any stage in its career would create an album as accomplished and fully-realised as Bright Green Field, but somehow Squid have done it on their first try, setting them leaps and bounds ahead of most of their contemporaries and establishing them as one of modern music’s most exhibiting bands.
“Ollie Judge is as much a part of the band’s sound as the instruments and just as delightfully crazed and deranged.”
Fred Bruce, Music Editor: While the punk Renaissance promised by the late 2010s may never have appeared, there is solace to be taken in the recent wave of post-punk outfits sprouting up from independent venues across the country. From grandiose, art-rock bands such as Black Country, New Road and Iceage to the more frantic, subdued sounds of shame or deep tan, the genre has flourished in a way few have in recent memory.
Squid stand out amongst this crowded field for several reasons, all of which become evident on their debut LP Bright Green Field. Simultaneously cohesive and brutally discordant, Squid’s jagged guitar-based soundscapes play perfectly into the dystopian world crafted by drummer and lyricist Ollie Judge. These almost off-putting clashes of sound nonetheless invite the listener into a labyrinth of art-rock masterclasses. Lengthy tracks like Narrator wield pacing and restraint in a way that belies the band’s relative inexperience, building gorgeously into a cacophonous finale that viscerally slaps you for ever having doubted them. Meanwhile, subtler cuts like 2010 demonstrate Squid’s versatility while maintaining their authentic, angular sound. This metamorphic ability ensures that Bright Green Field as a whole neither loses steam nor collapses under the weight of its heavier songs.