IDLES’ track-by-track guide to new album TANGK

Dancing, cycling, getting nicked: IDLES frontman Joe Talbot talks us through their new album TANGK, one song at a time.

IDLES’ track-by-track guide to new album TANGK
Nick Ruskell
Tom Ham, Daniel Topete

“Mate, they’re all love songs.”

Munching his way through an enormous pile of sweet treats in a lush hotel room, Joe Talbot is today in the mood for both tangents and solid particulars. When it comes to IDLES’ fifth album TANGK, it’s possible to chase the frontman down rabbit holes about cycling near his native Bristol (“It’s fucking good for it”) or which of the city’s pubs are still there. On the above, though, he’s definite and blunt. These are, indeed, all love songs, just put through IDLES’ unique and unpredictable filter.

Elsewhere, after noting that any musical references he’s made have all been to things non-rock, he smiles his big, slightly dangerous grin, and tells you that’s the point.

“The best thing I can say about people that seek inspiration from their own backyard is it’s incestuous,” he laughs. “No-one needs an inbred fucking album. We seek to play what we love. And that comes from many different things: hip-hop, soul, grind, techno, fucking folk music… There’s some rock’n’roll but, you know, we’re not a glam rock band.”

No. And TANGK isn’t an album you can guess so easily, either. It’s brilliant, though. To act as Sherpa through its twisting moods and ideas, Joe takes us through it, one song at a time…

1IDEA 01

“This was the first idea we had in the studio with Nigel [Godrich, producer]. I'd already written five or six songs in Bristol. But this was the first time [guitarist Mark] Bowen and I were together in London. He started playing around something on a piano, which is what you hear. And Nigel and I kind of made eye contact, like, ‘That sounds great.’ We didn't get the end part until France, but we didn't finish any songs until we got to the studio in France! We had 17 parts and no songs, no lyrics, no melody, which is fine, we got the idea. This song was the start, when we realised then that we're onto something, the album that we wanted to make. We came into this album knowing that we were going to transgress and not do the same that we might be expected to do.

“Did the other ideas come into focus after this? A bit, yeah. It was about the pragmatics of Nitro Studio. There was a tape loop set up in the studio – like a long tape loop around a pole. We had everything set up in a circle, so we’d just record shit, put it on loop and move on to something else. It opened up the arena for whatever the fuck we wanted to do, which is a magic feeling. It also made me feel a bit small and worried and uncomfortable. It took me a while to settle, because I was used to just being in the room with the boys, telling them what to do and finishing a song, but we weren't finishing anything. I started ultimately having faith in the fact that I was going to write the whole album [lyrics] at the booth or the mic in the studio.

“It wasn’t impulsive – more intuitive. I wrote half of Ultra Mono [2020] and maybe a little bit more than half of Crawler [2020] at the microphone. I’ll have a theme or a palette for the song, it’ll feel a certain way, and I'd have listened to the song 200 times before I got to the mic. I just don't have a melody or lyrics or just kind of allow it to come in.”

2Gift Horse

“That was Jon [Beavis, drums] and Dev [Adam Devonshire, bass], in Bristol. I was working with Jon, just the two of us, doing beats. I was trying to get him to listen to disco and techno and stuff, and find pocket grooves and work on those. They started just jamming that out and it felt great. And then I wrote the song around it. The lyrics are about my daughter, and they just wrote themselves, really.”


“That title’s based on Mica Levi's MySpace handle, when they were Micachu And The Shapes, and they described their music as ‘pop pop pop’. I thought that was sick because it's very violent sounding, kind of grimy music, but with pop melodies. That's always stuck in my head for some reason.

"This was a beat I had in mind for my ’80s pop music. I sent the boys a bunch of references and said, ‘This is a beat I want to use,’ so I got John to play it and Nigel's studio, and then I got on the bass and start playing this bassline. But it was on a hollow body bass, and it started feeding back. We were like, ‘Fucking stick it in!’ It was written in 10 minutes, and then we took that to France.

“It’s a song about the beauty of having a kid and understanding how lucky you are to have a kid. And there's a sense of a cycle when you have a child, when you've lost a parent and a child. I have a very huge sense of gratitude and weight behind being a parent because of what I've lost. I'm not saying I'm a better parent, or more connected because of that. But for me, I'm more connected than I would have been, I think, because of what I've lost. I've learned a sense of just joy from seeing her joy. And I think that's amazing. And powerful. And I'm very grateful.”


“Bowen wrote this. He was obsessed with counting things out on this album, and did weird counts, like 7/12. I'm making that up, not 7/12, but it was really annoying counts, anyway. But all I wanted to do was make people dance. So we're coming from very different angles, musically. Not in his mind, but definitely in my mind. I just couldn't get on board with his fucking beats. But this one was was like a beat from a Roy Orbison tune, kind of, and I loved that.

"I had this idea for the guitar, and Bowen wrote this really beautiful bridge, but at the time it was the chorus. We were going round and round in circles in London on this fucking thing. And then just as we're packing up – Jon had already packed the drums away – I came up with this drum fill for the end of the verse, to elevate it into this chorus that I've been trying to write for four years. It’s like Motown soul tune chorus, kind of like Lemos’ Bad Girl where there's the fill, and it's organs or trumpets, you know, like a horn section, and it feels in your memory so much bigger than it actually is. So we unpacked the drums and set them back up again, and wrote the beat in literally two minutes. We found an organ, which sounded sick, and then Bowen just hit this one note on his guitar and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that's it.’ That was one of my favourite moments, writing whole album, when I finally got that chorus out!

“It was worth the wait, you know? And that's why I wrote the song about my girlfriend. You just learn patience and wait for things, and good things come when you treat things with respect and you wait patiently and you just seize the day.”

5A Gospel

“This is one that Bowen wrote himself. He recorded it on his phone, and it's really personal to him. You could hear his kid on the recording and stuff. It's a quiet song, a piano song, and we didn't actually talk about it – I just did it because my mate needed me to do it for him. I was a bit nervous about it, because I didn't want to fuck it up after he'd done something so good. I think it means something to me, about an ex-girlfriend, but that's probably not what Bowen was thinking about when he wrote it.”


“This one’s about dancing with this girl I used to dance with every week, at this hip-hop night. That was a moment where I could enjoy myself and dance all night. It was beautiful. Dancing is very important to me. It was kind of the whole basis of the eulogy around my mum's funeral, you know? One of the things about certain themes, especially in British culture, is that you can't possibly dance with emotion and intimacy and passion and not want to fuck. It's more than that. I was in Mexico maybe a year ago, in this club, with a traditional band playing at three in the morning, dancing with strangers, and it was fucking magic. I was covered in sweat and just enjoying the moment. That’s a huge part of IDLES, that magic feeling when you see everyone connect on a very animalistic level and enjoy a rhythm. What I wanted from this album was to try and create a communion that was a physical one, and not a thoughtful one.”


“Again, I wrote the beat. I asked Nigel to play it, and he put it on his Linndrum [drum machine] and it sounded sick. Then I started playing bass. It sounded good. And then I decided to sing. It's the only time I sang in London. I sang the first verse off the cuff, the melody lyrics, just they just came out. It was so quick. We tried and tried and tried for months to make something more of that song. But we realised that it was already there. It’s that fear of simplicity. I said, ‘Is it going to make people dance?’ ‘Yeah.’ That's it. Done. Move on.”

8Hall & Oates

“This is more rowdy IDLES, and that was my intention. I wrote the song quite quickly on the toilet, actually. We were in between writing something else in Bristol, and I was just like, ‘I'm gonna go for shit.’ And I came up with that riff, then the beat came very quickly after that. I just wanted to write something powerful. And at the time, I was doing a lot of cycling. A revelation for me was discovering that I could hang out with my mates somewhere outside of a pub, and feel great at the end of it, and build something amazing. I wrote the song based on a joke me and my ex used to say, which is that when you when you make love with someone for the first time, it feels like Hall & Oates is playing in your head. The next day, you're walking on air, and everything's rocking, and the birds are singing. I like that idea. As a comparison to when you meet someone as a friend, who also makes you feel like that. I had an amazing summer cycling and making friends, and it felt good.”


“Jungle was a riff that I had that I wanted to make into a tune for a long time. I’d try to work it into things and it wasn’t working. Then Bowen just turned the notes into chords and it sounded sick. Then eventually we went into a sort of Caribbean swing in the chorus. We took a while to find a chorus, and Nigel really helped us out with it because he thought it was worth it. It’s a good song. I knew what I was going to sing melody wise. And it kind of drove me to thinking about being arrested, and I remember I wanted to get into storytelling for a while. What was I arrested for? No comment!”


“This was one of Bowen's ‘counting songs’. It took a while to get. The groove is slightly off, which is cool, but took me a while to figure it out. I sang this note into my phone. I wanted to loop the sound of something being hit that wasn't the drum, ‘Jnng-jujujujujuh’, and Bowen took that and basically made a song around it. We loved it, but it took a long time to figure out as a song. But we'd had that part for a very long time.

“Lyrically, I really just wrote a poem about gratitude. And that's what came out. It’s about the revelations around self-pity, and realising how lucky you are and what you've come from. It's important to remind yourself of that. I was doing a lot of either poems or stories from past experiences, and this is a storytelling, gratitude poem.”


“I was obsessed with these riffs and bits of music that went through films like monoliths, where they stand out. You know, like a sequence of notes that would play and be repeated throughout a film, but with different tones and different orchestration. The Hateful Eight had it, so did All Quiet On The Western Front, the German war film. I was like, ‘That is fucking sick’, the way it changes but stays so potent and brilliant. It said so much with so little, and I love that, the economy of words and the economy of sound.

“It reminds me of a documentary I saw called Soul Of A Man, a blues documentary in a series of curated documentaries by Martin Scorsese. It starts off with this scene where they talk about how they sent Blind Willie Johnson’s music out into space in a capsule as a representative of Earth. That’s sick. I liked the visual aspect of this song being played in space, which brought me to sing kind of a blues riff, and the first line came from Illinois Blues by Skip James. And the sax at the end, that came from just fucking around and Nigel putting that there. We heard it and were like, ‘That’s how you fucking end an album…’”

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