Self-belief and a blow to the stomach
Flatworms have hardened their sound and they’re out fighting. Antarctica is more manic and ablaze than ever before, maybe as a method of speaking to the times we’re living through, maybe as a cry for help. This cold arctic breeze is stinging, and it won’t let up.
You’ve really got to be invested in post-punk psych to benefit from the genre – if your arms aren’t wide open to this record, Flatworms won’t embrace you, and with an immense tracklist that has the potential to rile spirits high, it would be a shame not to open yourself up, just in the slightest, to all this mayhem. It’s hard and heavy, the guitar’s cut through overblown drums and punchy vocals, the bassline is brooding like a misdemeanour, and more striking yet, it never relents. Start to finish Antarctica is a blow to the stomach.
It’s refreshing in a way to hear instruments being pushed to their brink without fear, and more surprisingly with unity – this is Flatworms’ biggest strength, and it can’t go unnoticed. The tracks are tight and unwavering. “Wet Concrete” runs strikingly between blaring licks and Morrisey-like vocals, opener “The Aughts” is pretty much made off the amp’s feedback and just before it completely immerses you Will Ivy’s voice is welcomed with clarity. “Plaster Casts” never lets up, in a similar fashion, and like most of the tracks on this record, is carried by Ivy’s heady vocals. They shine through wherever they can, their calm and steady delivery providing necessary certainty against the vanquishing instrumentals.
If Flatworms could take one bit of advice from their fellow contemporaries it would have to be from new boys on the block, black midi. They emerged just a few years ago, around the same time as Flatworms, and have really brought noise rock to the forefront of alt-listeners’ ears. They did so with conceivable ease and the reason for their success is not because they do anything better than Flatworms – musically both bands are on the same wavelength, even Ivy’s voice bares an uncanny resemblance to Geordie Greep – but because they’ve garnered an intricate and invigorating style. Nothing about their writing is basic, it’s always questioning itself, and any confines of regular music-making, no matter the genre, are broken without challenge. That is where Flatworms miss out – they’re playing things too safe. Even noise rock can become predictable, and in today’s industry if you aren’t doing everything you can to completely and genuinely redefine your sound, then you aren’t doing enough.
Surprisingly the album’s title track is it’s most shy, reigned back by space more than anything else. That’s what this record is ultimately missing, such that it’s all too dense to handle past five or six tracks, and while “Antarctica” delivers on broadening the band’s otherwise one dimensional sound, it doesn’t last. Any purist of this genre will undoubtedly argue the legitimacy of 45 minutes of screeching instrumentals, just like Aphex Twin might argue the same for the beauty of his selected ambient works. No one’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong, rather listeners should be guided by feeling, and the feelings around Flatworms’ lack of nuance and style, their need to push themselves and diversify, experiment, liberate – it’s all contested by the outright defiance of their sound. Who’s to tell them how to make music when they carry themselves purely by the weight of their conviction? Self-belief, that’s who.