20,000 Leagues Under the OC

By A. J. UrquidiMarch 5, 2024

20,000 Leagues Under the OC
SQUID with WATER FROM YOUR EYES, THE OBSERVATORY, Santa Ana, February 29, 2024.

As a lifelong admirer of weird cryptids, sea monsters, and beings of potentially extraterrestrial origin, I’ve always been enamored with cephalopods. I used to proclaim annually to my grade-school classmates that my favorite animal was the squid (alternatively the octopus, if I was going through a phase). I loved its excessive tentacles, freaky beak, projectile ink, camouflage and jet biotech, and unlikely arrangement of organs in a head-looking tube that’s actually more of a torso sack. Living in New York City, I made several pilgrimages to the Natural History Museum’s eerie squid-and-sperm-whale corner. If the Animorphs books ever became reality, I was more than prepared to rain mollusk-metamorphosing power upon invading baddies. In light of my childhood passion, I eagerly nabbed a ticket to the squid observatory pop-up in Santa Ana slated for that most alien of holidays, Leap Day.

Turns out I misread the event info and found myself at Orange County venue the Observatory watching Brighton post-Brexitcore heroes Squid chug through an hour of trippy, chaotic jams. After their early days of David Byrne–spirited singles sporting anxious yelps about modern living, the group cultivated a foundational reputation among Brixton’s resurgent Windmill scene, then holed up in a barn during the pandemic lockdown to craft their first album and increase their oddball factor tenfold.

As Squid’s North American tour promoting their sophomore album, last summer’s O Monolith, wound down, the band was now slated to play the main hall just over two years after dominating the Observatory’s side stage, the Constellation Room. Brooklyn-based indie/unclassifiable artist Water from Your Eyes chummed the waves for Squid as Nate Amos’s loop-backed guitar-shredding harmonized with Rachel Brown’s coolly slurred chants. Recent experimental songs like “True Life” evoked the angular dance-punk of Deerhunter’s debut while others blended wistful moods and signifiers reminiscent of Transatlanticism, the Raincoats, and Lindsey Weir’s sentimental army jacket. Just like the mysterious nautilus, WFYE eventually withdrew into their sonic shell and retreated into backstage murk, presumably to devour seafloor carrion.

The real question of the night was whether Squid could live up to their chitinous namesake and deliver the calamaric euphoria I had come for. Well, the five-piece technically wielded 10 arms in total, so they met the basic prerequisite of Decapodiformes. The hypnotic, off-kilter grooves with which they inked the crowd’s ears earned them another point toward that comparison.

As the band powered through newer grass-themed anthems of dread (“Undergrowth,” “The Blades”), older meditations on the brutal march of time (“Documentary Filmmaker,” “G.S.K.”), and juddering diatribes against forcing people into unfitting shapes (“Narrator,” “Paddling”), they cloaked themselves in a kaleidoscope of genres to evade their natural predator, the relentless encroachment of existential panic. Drummer-singer Ollie Judge served as the beast’s all-seeing eye from his central rhythmic throne, keeping difficult time and thus directing the precise movements of nearby tendrils—the constantly mutating multi-instrumentalists Louis Borlase and Laurie Nankivell comprising Judge’s immediate circle, with Arthur Leadbetter and Anton Pearson symmetrically caressing the stage’s periphery.

Squid writhed and wriggled through the set like an octopus fluidly navigating unimaginably tight crevices in a coral reef. Each song climaxed and washed away like a breaking wave; cacophonous buildups threatened to release the Kraken and rip the boys apart just before they would deftly dodge one whirlpool after another. I had entered a skeptic—what group of British lads could possibly hope to transcend the majesty of the sea’s most eldritch entity? But by the show’s end, it was clear that Judge and his friends were more than mere rock lobsters; they had lived up to their coveted title, and more.


Photo of Squid by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

A. J. Urquidi is the copydesk chief of Los Angeles Review of Books and co–executive editor of indicia.


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