ILL - We Are ILL

by Tim Dawtry Rating:9 Release Date:2018-05-11
ILL - We Are ILL
ILL - We Are ILL

For a few years now ILL - all female purveyors of "disobedient noise" - have been scratching around the Manchester live scene scaring the bejesus out of unwitting punters . A combination of ferocious live shows, musical smarts, gnarly hooks, political rage, wit and hilariously disturbing videos has won them a growing fan base amongst people who can recognise complete and utter awesomeness when they see it.

So, with the release of their debut album, you too can get ILL. Which means you get industrial strength bass riffs bolted to proper caveperson drumming whilst headfuck keyboard and guitar work lays down a barrage of scary noise. Out of this maelstrom twin vocals holler, shout, yelp, plead, rave and rage about everything from dystopian bus queues, insanity, the evils of patriarchy and capitalism and the perils of sexual harassment whilst in lunar orbit.

If this description is not enough to have you sprinting, pocket money in hand, to your local record shop / digital download facility (and frankly WHY NOT?!?!) - they somehow manage to forge these elements into songs that are musically arresting, emotionally charged and full of irresistibly infectious hooks, riffs and vocal refrains. In short - its wilful, wild and weird whilst simultaneously being brilliant pop music.

What really grips you by the throat is those vocals – particularly that of main vocalists Whitney Bluzma and Harriet Shanahan - a combination punch that is always fully committed to stabbing home their pithy, angry, sarcastic and often very witty lyrics.

Whilst ticking all the angry, punky vocal delivery boxes, Whitney Bluzma demonstrates an impressive vocal range and a nifty facility with harmonies. One suspects she has a disappointed older relative somewhere who says things like "Oh Whitney, you've got such a lovely voice - why do you have to ruin it with all that nasty shouting?"

On the other mic Harriet Shanahan powerdrives her vocals with the thick, rich, full throated resonance of Polly Styrene or the B52's Katie Pierson. Alongside very able vocal support from the rest of the band, they holler up a storm of call and response hooks and rythmes like dark-side school girls from some demented playground.

So - the songs. Well its all good. Having seen them live (and absolutely do this if you get the chance) I can happily report that the album captures all the dynamism, wild musicality and anarchic, exuberant energy of ill in the flesh. In addition the record allows more opportunity to pay attention to the themes, emotions and ideas. There is a lot of impassioned rage here, alongside frustration, paranoia and mania. But this is laced with black humour, sardonic wit and elevated by the empowered, celebratory joy that bursts through every note.

It kicks off with ill song. A happily unhinged exploration of sickness and insanity. The protagonist is "Putting a stress / on the NHS" and cajoled to "take your pills" cos "you're not getting better".

Space Dick fires radical feminism into space with a joyous takedown of sexual harassment that boasts such wondrous rhyming couplets as "Eating through a tube/checking out your boobs" and "fancy some fellation/on the MIA station?"

Stuck on a Loop is a cry of Sisyphean despair as pop song. A depiction of a nightmare relationship of endlessly repeated toxic behaviour in the form of a macabre nursery rhyme sung/chanted over a Brit-pop-esque guitar riff that's been warped into a special kind of wrongness.  

Bears is slower and charged with the darkest of dark eroticism. "I'll feed you to my bears" threatens/promises the singer - a prospect that sounds both terrifying and irresistible. Outstanding vocals and rich swirling soundscapes create something haunting and beautiful that puts you in mind of Siouxie and the Banshees at their very best. Gothic - but great.

Bus Shelter is based around another deliciously tortured, grunting riff and takes the daily public transport commuter slog and throws it into one of the circles of Dante's inferno amidst crazed warnings of an impending apocalypse.

I am the Meat is a relentless, industrial assault that's heavy with threat. Out of this pounding murk come disturbing, poetic declamations "Skinny pudding fucker - Sacrificial Alter - Give me all your gravy - this is just for starters .... I AM THE MEAT!" The notion of female flesh as something to be consumed is transformed into into a statement of deranged empowerment. (And Sunday dinner has never sounded more terrifying or less wholesome).

Slithering Lizards is an extended wig out where swirls of sound and raging vocals build and build and overwhelm, creating a sonic spectre of approaching dread in the form of toxic politics and politicians "coming for you".

Power is reminiscent of early Bauhaus with its slow doomy toms, grinding bass and atonal noises off - it becomes an incantation where the singer summons up some frightening force that she can barely control "what am i supposed to do with all this power?"

Hysteria - for me the stand out track on an album full of them - is based on a stripped down call and response riff. This provides the backdrop for an increasingly impassioned assault on the forces that reduce a women's role to that of being “just a birthing machine”.   The star here is Harri Shanahan’s vocal; a full throated, sneering, accusatory roar of rage at god and religion and the state. "This is what god wants , this is your purpose/ and you all know what god wants /control of your cervix" “Mother Hero, Mother Hero. Push! Push!” The Handmaids Tale distilled into a 3 minute masterpiece. Its exhilaratingly transgressive in a way that recalls nothing less than the Pistols’ God Save the Queen. A primal, glorious fuck you to oppressive societal norms.

In its entirety, We are ill is an extraordinary piece of work. A riotous assembly of politics, wildly inventive musicality, visceral energy, devastating word bombs and assertive rage where all the elements fuse into an extraordinary sonic alchemy.   Its an epiphany.   Its the sound of four women tearing out a space for themselves and unleashing something they barely seem to know how to contain. (What are they doing to do with all this power?)   It shows up the vast majority of contemporary guitar music for the complacent, boring bloke rock it is.

So yes. Buy the record. But more than that – Ill are a DIY outfit, there is no industry muscle backing here – they do all their own promotional, media, booking and self management. Hell yeah – sock it to the man and all that – but, that means this frankly amazing band are not getting the exposure and recognition they richly deserve. Its up to us to help. Share their music, share the rave reviews (its not just me btw!), hassle promoters , demand radio stations play them. Get ill! Infect your friends and family ! Spread the sickness!

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