The Portland-based heavy noise rockers Ils sound invigoratingly aggressive on their new record Curse, which releases in full on July 4. The band’s music feels consistently heavy, loud, and fast, and there’s a clear passion in the band members’ energetic performance that makes the songs land with an even more earth-rattling thud.
Fundamentally, Ils found their song on invitingly familiar elements. The drums hit hard, and the smacks of guitar groove land with a similar heaviness. That super heavy groove is a consistent element throughout Curse, like on the song “Whitemeat,” which was released as a single. The vocals feel aggressive and confrontational there and throughout the record, and so does the music, which features snarling guitar rhythms with a clearly fist-pumping intensity.
“We all wanted and like to write songs straight and to the point,” the band’s bassist Adam Pike explains. “You know… trim the fat… no room for fodder — then use the fodder for another song. Write and repeat.”
Ils guitarist Nate Abner adds that one of the band’s guiding principles was “just to keep it fun,” explaining: “We’ve talked about keeping the arrangements simple. Most of our songs are written in a day. We know when something works. If not, we move along.”
The Sounds of Curse
The band’s free-wheeling yet always cohesively energetic songs feature a lot of different textures — the dynamics swing quite a bit, and there’s never a whole lot of meandering. There’s a clear menace in the singing, and that menace feels readily evident in the music too. The heavy, noisy rock feels like the soundtrack to a fistfight with some kind of otherworldly creature.
Vocalist Tom Glose compares the album’s feel to a horror movie of a very particular kind. He explains: “Vocally speaking, I was trying to capture scenes/snapshots regarding the supernatural and the occult, Native American Mythology, tension, struggle, oppression, injustice, depression, violence, horror, murder, suicide (literally and metaphorically), loss of self and/or mind, atonement, redemption, guidance and the movie Meatballs. So a constant reel of a stream of consciousness horror movie with Bill Murray.”
That kind of off-kilter confrontation with bizarrely contorting aggression runs throughout Curse. The power of the dynamic shifts and the bluntness of the melodies, which sometimes feel inescapably catchy, really help outline the experience of the record along those lines — the band’s particularly off-kilter approach, in other words, shines through.
“It’s difficult to capture aggressive tones without losing clarity or just plain over doing it,” Pike comments. “Luckily we have two audio engineers in the band and a third engineer and long time friend, Stephen Hawkes, who we had mix the record. We were fortunate to have a good hive mind mentality with making this album for sure.”
The band members note an array of different musicians who’ve weighed on their own journey with the music. Glose, for instance, notes the “late 80’s, early 90’s band roster of such labels as Amphetamine Reptile, Touch and Go, SST, Alternative Tentacles, etc.” and Abner notes individual musicians like John Reis and Rick Froberg from the post-hardcore group Hot Snakes and other projects, Eric Bachmann from indie rock group Crooked Fingers and more, and Duane Denison from The Jesus Lizard.
“I feel like we ‘borrow’ sonically from a lot of influences… from Jesus Lizard to Barkmarket to Melvins to Drive Like Jehu to Sonic Youth to Shiner to Hum and to Bill Murray,” Pike comments.
On “Whitemeat,” the band utilize some very real-world themes for their confrontation with twisting clouds of aggression. Specifically, Glose derides the folks who are “so damn rich” and “so damn white” like “chicken rotting in the sun” (which is a very memorable comparison, it must be noted).
“The lyrics for Whitemeat were actually written before the recent events, but the idea behind the lyrics still plays into the narrative of America’s long history of racism, sexism and outright bigotry,” Glose notes. “The narrative that illustrates the systemic racism and sexism inbred with American culture — that America as a whole is owned by rich, white bigots who can afford to pay capital to divide American citizens, to install fear and mistrust, to sow discord along racial lines, oppress anyone who’s not a white, heterosexual male, and… make money at it. “Whitemeat” from a lyrical standpoint is a standalone song. It is pointed while the rest of the albums lyrics are more stream of consciousness. They are more providing a snapshot or telling a story while “Whitemeat” is making a point.”
That song’s point definitely fits well in the band’s broader capture of energy amidst the musical tumult.
“We wrote and tracked a demo of “Whitemeat” over a year ago,” Pike notes. “While tracking, Tom was coughing all over the intro. We were all like “Let’s keep that!” Hearing his lyrics and coughing now along with all that’s going on in the world proves that Tom is a time traveling fortune teller and owns a time machine… there is no other explanation.”
Perhaps he is! The coughing is all-too-reflective of the current state of affairs. Curse can provide a soundtrack to you wondering if Glose really is a time-traveler. Maybe more songs than we realize are trying to tell us something…
With Ils, more energy awaits. Discussing their ideas for future music, Pike shares: “All I can say about this is Nate bought a minimoog recently… possibly to learn theme songs from various Zelda games, but also possibly to write the next album.”
Check out some music off Curse below, and stay tuned for the full album drop! Pre-order the album at this link.