ILL – We Are ILL

Fearless and fierce, political and powerful Manchester art punks ILL have released a debut which is all of those things and refreshingly fully formed with a laser-sharp focus to boot

Sarah Lay reviews.

Label: Box Records
Released: 11 May 2018

This is the sound of a feminist freakout. It chants, it thrashes, it pays no heed to established structures. It absolutely kills as a debut and oozes with the agitated assurance of the post-punk art-rock ILL.

Opening with the call to arms of ILL Song the album is an introduction to a band who demand attention without performing purely for your pleasure. Melodically and lyrically whirling, directed mania suffering and spitting back at society’s intolerance and as punchy as the message comes the pop-punk disco down. This is a wild-eyeded but precision-guided hit.

And it sets the tone for the rest of the album – one that plays around with structure, and wilfully disrespects the false boundaries of genre. They are punk, they are disco, they are Riot Grrrl grunge, they are metal. They are chanted gang-vocals, they are solidarity, both a nightmare and a dream.

Unlike many punk and post-punk bands around they manage to keep their identity despite roaming across genres. The identity of ILL is stamped large whether on the cowbell and laser heavy Space Dick, or the deep doom-infused but determined Bears, a clarion call of rising against the hands that hold you down and the power within. As with elsewhere on the record it is the level of detail in the layers of the song, the scratching, the whoop-howl backing vocal, the distortion against the chime. Both astounding and outstanding.

The second half of the album alternates fizzing pop-punk with the dark and distorted freak-outs. I Am The Meat presents a different meaning depending on the listener – a seething clap-back at those who place anyone non-male in the supporting role or social commentary on the commodification of the female-form – whichever way you want to hear it the anger and the frustration is clear, the snap of the end of a tether being reached as sharp as the rhythm.

The nine-minute opus of Slithering Lizards builds from an ominous spiral to a off-kilter riffs and insistent chants. It gives way to the sludgy slur of Power, a crawl through sexuality and seduction, hitting that beautiful spot between pain and pleasure, where all is dark and all is light, all is restraint and all is satisfaction.

The album closes with the synth-punctuated Hysteria. A complex mesh of melodies weave around the rhythm building to a siren-sounding chorus as it reflects the reduction of women to wife and mother, sets free the madness in the idea and the infliction of women as state slaves. It embodies the wildness, the anger-fuelled zeal, of the rest of the album and brings you brilliantly back to the start once again.

As vibrant and vital as The Slits, ILL is a creative force that won’t conform and won’t be contained by accepted structure or signatures, an album both carefully constructed yet organically exuberant. Playful, political, powerful: ILL deliver a defiantly cross-genre debut packed with infectious energy and inspiring intent.

Find ILL on Bandcamp. The album is out now via Box Records.

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica. A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist. Follow her @sarahlay

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