Punk Rock's Flat Worms Evoke the 2010s in 'Antarctica'

Photo: Owen Schmit / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

Los Angeles punk rockers, Flat Worms succeed in transforming the urgency to escape into a musical experience on Antarctica.

Flat Worms

GOD? Records

10 April 2020

Just a few months into 2020, and we are well into the COVID-19 global pandemic. While we are unaware of where this no-turning-back phase will lead, listening to a conceptual album about the recent 2010s is a puzzling experience. A decade of recurring crisis that forced us to live with the constant fear of imminent disaster. The black screens in our hands have already established social distancing in our dysfunctional society. We can survive the fatal ruins of the algorithmic empire we live in, but only if we start to cooperate. This is the message captured by Flat Worms on Antarctica.

The Los Angeles-based band leave the caustic lo-fi sound of their debut album behind and play a more defined tone, as they did on previous EP Iris. Recorded in six days with Ty Segall and Steve Albini -- whose influence is evident -- Antarctica is a metaphor for the State of California. The icy continent is a desolate and hostile environment for human life, but the social life in the 21st-century sunny Cali is no different. Exactly like in any other country in the globalized world.

From the opening cadenced bassline and the angular guitar in "The Aughts", and throughout the 40 minutes, Flat Worms assemble a claustrophobic sonic tunnel. A straight sound between '90s experimental indie rock and Swell Maps' Jane from Occupied Europe, with echoes of the late SST Records. The rhythm chases you both when it slows down and when it speeds up, like in the first single "Market Forces". "Yeah, I'm looking for a catapult / To escape the situation / But every time I thought I got out / I'm just stepping in quicksand again."

Will Ivy, singer and guitarist, sings the life of a lonely human being and society's loss of empathy and identity. He is faced with a world depicted by the contrast between natural elements and oppressive concrete. The lyrics are introspective, focused on crucial fragments of everyday life with a melancholy, yet witty attitude. Take the punchline in the homonymous track "Antarctica". "My dog is smiling as I drive her to the park / We sit together in my kitchen after dark / I ask her questions, she just barks."

There is no shortage of social commentaries. "The quarry sparkled like a gem / An opportunity fresh to taste / Profit laced sustainable energy / A sacrificial shallow well." With those lyrics, "Mine" is an endorsement of environmental activism, as well as a criticism of how brands appropriate rebellion values to be more likable to the masses. Or better said, to the users. The story could have a happy ending, as Ivy sings in "Via", "If I follow the fallen's path / I walk to my own demise / Can't burn the history / But I can try to rebuild."

Conceptually, Antarctica delivers an interesting point of view, although it feels a bit outdated by current events through no fault of its own. Antarctica is a solid effort but lacks the spark of originality that would make it unforgettable. Guitar riffs after guitar riffs, you won't find a wriggle or stop yourself from asking where you heard before. Flat Worms create a unified sonic flux balanced in the raw guitar and the zappy bass.

That said, the band succeed in transforming the urgency to escape into a musical experience on Antarctica. There is no doubt that who think a record is a concept where the overall idea matters first, will love it. For the ones, however, who consider music the first language and are looking for melodies that can crawl underneath their skins, one listening will be enough. In the end, it seems like the message exceeded the medium. For an album that claims to convey such a powerful vocation, the outcome is too little.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.