Squid announce their second album, O Monolith, out June 9th via Warp Records, and present its lead single/video, “Swing (In A Dream).” In 2021, upon the release of their debut album, Bright Green Field, the British quintet of Louis Borlase, Ollie Judge, Arthur Leadbetter, Laurie Nankivell, and Anton Pearson, established themselves as one of the most innovative new bands from the UK, live and on record. Produced by long-time collaborator, Dan Carey, and mixed by John McEntire (of Tortoise), their sophomore album, O Monolith, teems with melodic epiphanies and is a musical evocation of environment, domesticity and self-made folklore. Like its predecessor, it is dense and tricksy – but also warmer, with a winding, questioning nature.
Squid began work on O Monolith only two weeks after the release of Bright Green Field while the band were on tour in 2021. “Without that tour we wouldn’t have any of these tracks,” says Judge, of the fully seated, socially-distanced shows that allowed them to test out work-in-progress music. “People were so looking forward to seeing live music that we thought we could just play anything, even if it was unfinished. In some form or another we played about 80% of O Monolith, mostly without lyrics.” The songs continued to come together in rehearsal rooms around Bristol, where the band were based at the time, eventually moving to Peter Gabriel’s luxe Real World studios in Wiltshire. This change in environment further pushed the development of the band’s sound from claustrophobic post-punk to something more free-flowing and spacious.
The environment around the studio also had a palpable influence. Although originating in Brighton and now largely based in South London, every member of the band has a strong connection with the West Country, which only deepened during the recording process. One interpretation of O Monolith is a condensation of the environment into song. “There’s a running theme of the relation of people to the environment throughout,” says Borlase. “There are allusions to the world we became so immersed in, environmental emergency, the role of domesticity, and the displacement you feel when you’re away for a long time.” Elements of British folk music quite naturally found their way onto some songs, including field recordings from the area around the studio. Contributors include Martha Skye Murphy, following her appearance on Bright Green Field’s “Narrator,” and Roger Bolton, who maintains the Fairlight samplers known for their pioneering use by Kate Bush, “adding an important distinctive color in the record,” per Leadbetter.
“Swing (In A Dream)” was inspired by a dream Judge had about a painting called The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. “In my dream, I was in the painting but it was flooded and everything was floating away,” he explains. The song is full of bold moments that build on intricate details into an explosive climax. Beginning with an airy, cascading synth line and electronic, percussive stabs, the verse grows over Judge’s most melodic vocal to date. The accompanying video, directed by Yoonha Park, is an absurd take on Where’s Waldo? featuring friends and family of the band. “I was interested in exploring visual ideas from Where’s Waldo, Richard Scarry and Brueghel as a means to express anxieties about the climate crisis,” says Park
Expansive, evocative and hugely varied, O Monolith retains Squid’s restless, enigmatic spirit. It’s a reflection of the outsized progression of a band always looking to the future. “We’re quite a musically stubborn band, and in an endearing way it’s a stubborn record,” says Judge. Like its namesake, O Monolith is vast and strange; alive with endless possible interpretations of its inner mysteries.
Photo Courtesy: Studio UJ