IDLES’ fifth album is a collection of love songs. For singer Joe Talbot, it couldn’t be anything else. “At the time of writing this album, I was quite lost,” he tells Apple Music. “Not musically, it was a beautiful time for music. But emotionally, my nervous system needed organizing, and I needed to sort my shit out. So I did. That came from me realizing that I needed love in my life, and that I had sometimes lost my narrative in the art, which is that love is all I’ve ever sung about.” From a band wearied by other people’s attempts to pin narrow labels like “punk” or “political” to their expansive, thoughtful music, that’s as concise a summary as you’ll get. It’s also an accurate one. The Bristol five-piece’s music has always viewed the world with an empathetic eye, processing the human effects and impulses around subjects as varied as grief, immigration, kindness, toxic masculinity, and anxiety. And on their fourth album, 2021’s CRAWLER, the aggression and sinew of earlier songs gave way to more space and restraint as Talbot turned inward to reckon with his experiences with addiction. For TANGK, that experimentation continued while the band’s initial ideas were developed with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich in London during late 2022, before the record was completed with CRAWLER co-producer Kenny Beats joining the team to record in the south of France. They’ve emerged with an album where an Afrobeat rhythm played out on an obscure drum machine (“Grace”) or a gentle piano melody recorded on an iPhone (“A Gospel”) hit with as much impact as a gale-force guitar riff (“Gift Horse”). Exploring the thrills and the scars of love in multiple forms, Talbot leans ever more into singing over firebrand fury. “I’ve got a kid now, and part of my learning is to have empathy when I parent,” he says. “And with that comes delicacy. To use empathy is a delicate and graceful act. And that’s coming out in my art, because I’m also being delicate and graceful with myself, forgiving myself, and giving myself time to learn. I don’t want to lie.” Discover more with Talbot’s track-by-track guide to TANGK. “IDEA 01” “It was the first thing [guitarist and co-producer Mark] Bowen worked on, and Bowen, being the egotistical maniac that he is, called it ‘IDEA 01’ because he forgot that it was actually idea seven. But, bless him, he does like attention. But, yes, it was the first song that was written in Nigel’s studio. Bowen sat at the piano and started playing, and it was beautiful. ‘IDEA 01’ is different vignettes around old friends that I haven’t seen since Devon [where Talbot grew up], and the relationships I had with them and their families, and how crazy certain people’s families are. Bowen’s beautiful piano part reminded me of this song we wrote on the last album, ‘Kelechi.’ Kelechi was a good friend of mine who sadly passed away, and I hadn’t seen him since I waved him off to move to Manchester with his family. I just had this feeling I was never going to see him again. Maybe I’m writing that in my head now, but he was a beautiful, beautiful man. I loved him. I think maybe if we were still friends, part of me could have helped him, but that’s, again, fantasy I think.” “Gift Horse” “I was trying to get this disco thing going, so I gave Jon [Beavis, drummer] a bunch of disco beats to work on. And Dev [bassist Adam Devonshire] is bang into The Rapture and !!! and LCD Soundsystem, and he turned out that bassline real quick. I wrote a song around it, and it felt great. It was what my intentions of the album were: to make people dance and not think, because love is a very complex thing that doesn’t need to be thought. It can just be acted, and worked on, and danced with. I just wanted to make people move, and get that physicality of the live experience in people’s bones. I had this concept of a gift horse as a theme of a song, and it sang to me. I like that grotesque phrase, ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth.’ It’s about my daughter, and I’m very grateful for her, and our relationship, and I wanted to write a beast of a tune around her.” “POP POP POP” “I read [‘freudenfreude’] online somewhere. It was like, words that don’t exist that should exist. Schadenfreude is such a dark thing, to enjoy other people’s misery, so the idea of someone enjoying someone else’s joy is great. Being a parent, you suddenly are entwined with someone else’s joys and lows. I love seeing her dance, and have a good time, and grow as a person, and learn, so I wanted to write a song about it.” “Roy” “It’s an allegorical story that sums up a lot of my behavior towards my partners over a 15-year period where I was in a cycle of absolute worship and then fear, jealousy and assholery. I wanted to dedicate it to my girlfriend, who I call Roy. She’s not called Roy. I wanted it to be about the idea of a man who is in love and then his fears take over, and he starts acting like a prick to push that person away. Then he wakes up in the morning with a horrible hangover, realizing what he’s done, and he apologizes. He is then forgiven in the chorus, and rejoicing ensues.” “A Gospel” “It’s a reflection on breakups, which I think are a learning curve. I think all my exes deserve a medal, and they’ve taught me a lot. It’s really a tender moment of a dream I used to have, then [it] dances between different tiny memories, tiny vignettes of what happened before, and me just giving a nod to those moments and saying goodbye, which is beautiful. No heartbreak, really. I’ve been through the heartbreak now. It’s just me smiling and being like, ‘Yeah, you were right. Thank you very much.’” “Dancer” (with LCD Soundsystem) “The best form of dance is to express yourself freely within a group who are also expressing themselves freely, the true embodiment of communion. The last time I had this sense of euphoria from that was an Oh Sees gig at the [Sala] Apolo in Barcelona. I closed my eyes and let the mosh push me from one side of the room to the other and back. I didn’t open my eyes once, I just smiled and was carried by this organism of beautiful rage. Dancing’s a really big part of my personality. I love it. My mum always danced. Even in her most ill days [Talbot’s mother passed away during the recording of 2017 debut Brutalism], she would always get up and dance, and enjoy herself. I dance with my daughter every day that I have her. I think it’s magic and important.” “Grace” “It all came out of nowhere. I had this beat in mind for a while—I was thinking of an aggro Afrobeat kind of track. But it didn’t come out like that. It came out like what happens when Nigel Godrich gets his hands on your Afrobeat stuff. I asked Nigel to make the beat, and he chose the LinnDrum [’80s drum machine]. The LinnDrum changes the sound of a beat, the tone of a drum, the cadence of a beat, it changed the beat completely. It’s a very, very delicate thing, a beat. It sounded like a different song to me. It sounded amazing. And that’s where the bassline came from. And then that’s where the vocals came from. It felt a bit uneasy for a long time because it came out of nowhere. Me and Bowen were like, ‘Is this right? Is this complete?’ I think it just has to feel like you, like it is part of you and what you mean at the moment, that’s all. An album’s an episode of where you’re at in the world in that point in time.” “Hall & Oates” “I wanted to write a glam-rock pounder about falling in love with your boys. My ex and I used to joke about this thing where you make love to someone for the first time, and then the next day, you’re walking on air, and it feels like Hall & Oates is playing. The birds are singing, you’re bouncing around and everything’s great. I wanted to use that analogy for when you make friends with someone for the first time, and they make you feel good, lighter, stronger, excited to see them again. And that’s what happened in lockdown: I made friends with [Bristol-based singer-songwriter] Willie J Healey and my mate Ben, and we went on bike rides whenever we could, getting out and feeling good post-lockdown. It gave me a sense of purpose again. It felt like I was falling in love.” “Jungle” “I was trying to write a jungle tune for ages. The guitar line was a jungle bassline that I had but it just never fit what we were writing. And then Bowen started playing the chords on the guitar and it transformed it into something completely different. It completely revitalized what I’d been dragging through the mud for five years. Bowen made it IDLES, made it real, made it believable, made it beautiful. And then it reminded me of getting nicked, so I wrote a song about different times that I’ve been in trouble.” “Gratitude” “This was a real struggle. Bowen was really obsessed about doing interesting counts with the beats. I just wanted to make people dance and create infectious beats. We were coming from very different angles, but we loved this song that Bowen had made. I was like, ‘I get it, Bowen. This is insane. I love it, but I can’t get it.’ We hung on to it for ages, and then Nigel really helped us out, he created spaces and bits here and there by turning things down and moving everything slightly. Then Kenny helped me out, and got rid of the stupid counts, I think, and helped me write it on a 4/4 beat. And then they changed it back. I just come in in weird places. Everyone chipped in, because everyone believed in the song.” “Monolith” “I was fascinated by films where four or five notes are repeated throughout and create this monolithic motif. There’s a sense of continuity but the mood changes depending on certain things like tone and instruments. I wanted to do that over a song, and we got our friend Colin [Webster] from [London noise rock unit] Sex Swing to do the sax, we did it on different instruments that Nigel had. Nigel went away and basically put it all through the hollow-body bass. It reminded me of a documentary from a series called The Blues that Martin Scorsese curated. The Soul of a Man [directed by Wim Wenders] is about a song [Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was the Night’] getting sent into space. If any aliens get this capsule, they’ll hear this song being played from a blues artist. It created a really beautiful and deep picture in my mind. It felt like this monolith drifting in the ether. I started singing a blues riff behind it, a Skip James kind of thing. I think it’s a beautiful way to finish the album—us drifting in the ether.”

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