Album Review: IDER – shame

[Self-released; 2021]

London-based duo IDER‘s 2019 debut album was called Emotional Education; an appropriate title for a record packed with dizzying highs and dispiriting lows, all painted with broad, emphatic tones and colours. Their follow-up is titled shame, which, on its surface, suggests a more contained, demure affair. This is simply not the case; while shame is less ecstatic than its predecessor, it certainly doesn’t find the duo of Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville holding back – there are a multitude more complex and tangled feelings to be unknotted here.

Using short titles for convoluted displays of emotion is something they do throughout the album, with songs like “obsessed”, “BORED” and “embarrassed” (and the rest) featuring a far more detailed spectrum of feelings than those simple names would suggest. What’s more, the pair have added more depth and finesse to their production in order to support and underscore these vivid emotional journeys.

They confidently welcome us to this intricate new sound with “Cross Yourself” and its opening images of gold embroidery on a white gown and the light coming through the window. With us comfortably in place, they expound on the difficulties of finding purpose and meaning in life, their laser-guided harmony working just as effectively as ever, especially as they combine into a spiral of self-doubt to conclude the track on a poignant yet punchy note.

Things pick up quickly on “cbb to be sad”, a similarly tropical affair to the debut album’s “SWIM”, but much less throw away. While they “can’t be bothered to be sad”, by mingling tactile beats and a loping synth melody, on which their combined vocals surf with exciting dexterity, they manage to pull a multitude of shades out of their numbness. They shift us back towards the moody with the following “Knocked Up”, which sees them return to one of IDER’s trademark topics of body image. While the tone is quite heavy and maybe a little over serious, especially in the chorus of “I light a candle for my old self”, they should still be applauded for singing so openly about harmful past habits.

shame’s crowning moments come in the core one-two punch of “obsessed” and “BORED”. On the former they create a watery, guitar-and-echo atmosphere, inviting us into their daydream – which quickly snowballs into a neurotic nightmare – and the production helps us to feel closer to the pair than ever. We feel their knotted heart as they unload a series of questions that betray their hyperactive anxiety over the status of their current relationship, their conjoined voices more potent than ever in this ultra-vulnerable state – their earnest worry is piercing in its purity.

Kicking out the blues of the previous two tracks comes “BORED”, another song that unfolds in the form of a list-come-diatribe, but this time IDER are decidedly lashing out rather than turning inwards. Inspired by music industry numbskulls (it should be noted that they’ve made the empowering decision to self-release this album), they spiral out from their hatred of clones and drugged-up egos to take swipes at their phones, half-assed attempts at saving the planet, shoes and so much more – a meaty boom-bap adding oomph to each and every point. By the time they’re screaming and offering “won’t you fail with me” in the dreamy chorus, you’re in lockstep, willing to follow them into battle – even if we’re all doomed.

It’s a high that they can’t sustain, and the remainder of shame brings them fluttering back down to Earth in a series of melancholy affairs. The highlight is “embarrassed”, where they find themselves developing romantic feelings for someone they’ve been friends with for a while. Their melding of light and dark vocal tones, along with aqueous and firm sounds, does a sublime job of reflecting their shy admission, as we hear them bashfully bringing their hidden feelings to light; “I just wanna kiss you on your floor / I don’t wanna feel embarrassed.”

Returning to the title, shame, it feels less appropriate the more you think about it. Perhaps there’s an element of shame in each song, but it’s never the overriding emotion that comes through when listening. Perhaps they feel shame for being so open about their feelings – they shouldn’t, by singing about these topics, not only do they position themselves as a vital act, but they alleviate the shame of listeners who might feel the same way. Perhaps they named it shame because it’s a short, punchy, memorable and honest title – in which case, it’s perfectly suited.