Squid - O Monolith (2023), 5/10

O Monolith is simultaneously a great experimental work and also a major let down. The outstanding sonic dynamics, use of experimental electronic instrumentation and artful compositions should result in something great, surely better than their previous work, but somehow fall flat for most of the record. The unfortunate lack of staying power and relisten value makes it painfully average among releases this year. It genuinely could have and should have been so much better as the potential here is astounding; there is an endless supply of cool new sounds including electronic experimentation, it is as epic as any recent post-rock release, the swells reach high highs and low lows and Ollie’s vocals are technically great. The album, however, is woefully held back by a mismatch in style between this group’s inherent disposition with directionless ambition. Bright Green Field aligned much better with their capabilities and reinforces the adage that intention doesn’t always yield great results. Or in this case they are at least not as satisfying as they should be. The opener is a great example, as it contains some new, brilliant sounding instrumentation and it’s storytelling sets up an epic payoff, but it doesn’t go much of anywhere. “Devil’s Den” has a nice off-beat rhythm and singular guitar timbre, even a similarly unique use of varied instrumentation, but this hits the ear as a detriment as the vocals seem not to match in timing and impact despite their creativity. This mismatch in vocal timing and style is consistent, frustratingly so, as they are lacking when they should be punchy and biting, yet punchy and impactful when they should be atmospheric. There is an undeniable forward-thinking nature behind the sounds, but they fail to provide an album that I would want to listen to more than twice. I felt myself strongly considering whether I should put it on a third time and ultimately decided against it. There is just not enough here to warrant much love. “Siphon Song” again has a fantastic post-rock drama arc that should have a massive payoff but not only are the vocal choices are questionable, but it leans on the build so hard that when the decrescendo hits, it is so unsatisfying that it becomes almost infuriating and insufferable. “Undergrowth” has a groovy bassline, again some fantastic electronics and instrumental sonic-tampering, but the composition still feels disappointing from a lack of inherent energy beyond the experimentation; it feels directionless once again. My favorite track “The Blades” shares characteristics of practically the entire first side of the record but it is elevated by simply superior songwriting and more interesting dynamics. This feels odd to say as it really isn’t so different from the others, apart from the flow of energy from one point in the song to the next, an oddly indefinable quality of the song’s aura reaching a more meaningful place. Then another good track from “After the Flash” displaying a nice, familiar atmosphere despite its rigidity, but again I would not want to revisit this song beyond curiosity. Then perhaps one of the oddest sensations in “Green Light” as I wanted to hear a blend of Squid’s former composition style with this newfound creative flair, but it somehow does not work as well as I had hoped and results in a track that ultimately blends in with the rest. Then “If You Had Seen the Bull's Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away” provides us with a closer that appropriately presents us with an entertainingly artful performance but wears down on the ear until the album’s close. This record makes me feel so many different emotions, none of which I’d say are completely pleasant but perhaps confusing would be a good descriptor. Regardless, I would like to see a continuation of this bravery from the band as I feel it may result in something truly amazing with the right timing and vision, perhaps a clearer intention and direction. Ultimately O Monolith is an experiment that I respect but will not return to.