Squid: klangs for the memories.
Squid: klangs for the memories. Dave Segal

You gotta love it when a buzz band lives up to the hype. It's a rare occurrence to witness the media/music-biz machine operating as it presumably should. So it goes for Squid, a London quintet whose 2021 debut album on the vanguard UK electronic-music label Warp, Bright Green Field, announced the arrival of an important, quirky talent. They brought that record (and more) to vivid life last night to an enthusiastic crowd at the Crocodile, which appeared to be about 78 percent filled—impressive for a winter Tuesday with a pandemic still hanging on. Despite that, the audience brought big weekend energy on a school night.

Before the casually dressed, youngish Squid squad even walked onto the stage, the room filled with a warped synth overture that promised something special. Out of that wicked whorl, left-handed Louis Borlase and right-handed Anton Pearson's plangent guitars spangled as drummer Ollie Judge—sitting front and center—began to sing in a subdued seethe à la Clinic's Ade Blackburn. This piece, “Nines” according to the setlist, then erupted into an oblong rocker before resolving in a free-form freakout. Right out of the gate, Squid informed us that unpredictability would rule—and thank Jah for that.

Ollie Judge and Laurie Nankivell get motorik with a vengeance.
Ollie Judge and Laurie Nankivell get motorik with a vengeance. Dave Segal

The spasmodic funk of Bright Green Field track “Peel St.” recalled the scathing aesthetics of mid-'80s British bruisers such as Bogshed and the Shrubs—probably a coincidence, as these bands are lost in the mists of time to all but the most obsessive of Anglophiliac indie-music nerds. Whatever the case, the song's shattering, trebly breakdown triggered headbanging, then downshifted into a morose, spare jangle. Surprising dynamics FTW.

The swift, motorik pulse-pounder “Pamphlets” was a highlight, with its multiple parts swerving in unexpected directions and Pearson getting off a solo that sounded like Sonny Sharrock, if he were recording for ECM. Following this, “Fugue” fused the cool-browed, British-inflected krautrock of the Fall's “Cruiser's Creek” with Ornette Coleman's harmolodics—not something you hear every decade. The motorik motif continued with “Sludge,” featuring Judge's strangulated yelp signaling dystopian angst, much cowbell, and rhythmic propulsion that nodded to Can's “Mother Sky” and Neu!'s “Hallogallo.” If you're going to emulate, emulate the greatest ever to do it.

Arthur Leadbetter, master of synth miasmas and cowbell.
Arthur Leadbetter, master of synth miasmas and cowbell. Dave Segal

One thing that makes Squid extraordinary is that all five members multi-task with aplomb (keyboardist Arthur Leadbetter also plays percussion; bassist Laurie Nankivell also plays trumpet; guitarist Pearson also plays bass; guitarist Borlase also plays keyboards, etc.). Another thing that distinguishes them is their predilection for dropping in cacophonous drone excursions and cymbal smashes for the sheer hell of it. But Squid's chaos is rigorously marshaled—geared to keep you off-balance and tantalized, offering a nice change from the often-linear attack of their material. They allow for degrees of spontaneity in their live performance and the members display a refreshing lack of hierarchy. Everyone's crucial to this impactful sound, which captures the anxiety of 2020s existence while delivering catharsis from the barrage of hellish news.

Back to the show, which closed with the ominous, spiky rocker “Narrator.” Here, drummer Judge ranted at his most hysterical, his “I play mine” mantra leading into a coda of unsettling, blobular noise that continued to throb as Squid exited the stage. After a few minutes of this, a Crocodile staffer faded it out and cued up Rod Stewart's “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?” Imagine a collective “LOL” that will echo throughout 2022. But don't get it twisted: Squid are no joke.

A quick word about openers Deliluh, two Toronto, Ontario dudes who exuded undertaker vibes. I walked in halfway through their set, but they impressed with minimalist, post-punk melancholia on synth, drum machine, and guitar. The foghorn-voiced singer was more monotone than Ian Curtis, and they ended their brief time with a dramatic dirge that swirled in a sooty vortex. Deliluh then left the stage with neither a word nor a gesture. Never has a band pandered less than this.