Release Date: Jul 24, 2015
Record label: Harbinger Sound
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
The acclaim for Sleaford Mods' work grew nearly as quickly as their body of work: Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn recorded Key Markets around the time that Divide and Exit and Chubbed Up began appearing on "Best of 2014" lists. Fortunately, their speedy ascent didn't affect their approach or attitude; in fact, Key Markets might be even more pissed-off and contrary than their breakthrough album. While they may not have intended it as such, Divide and Exit was a major statement on 21st century dysfunction, full of pungent descriptions of frustrations big and small that struck a nerve with listeners worldwide.
What's great about the new Sleaford Mods record is that this band has entirely resisted change in the wake of their modest success. All I could ever ask from them is shitty bass guitar riffs, unsyncopated drum machines, and Jason Williamson; Key Markets doesn't disappoint. Their commitment to their aesthetic and their ability to use it to say new things is unflagging.
The furious excitement surrounding the strident, speedy ascent of Sleaford Mods has been accommodated by a dazzling array of releases, which have demonstrated how much had been bottled-up inside the duo, just waiting for an audience to validate it. They’re a classic singles band, but Jason Williamson’s pit of needle-sharp, evocative lyrics seems bottomless, so here comes another meaty full-length selection. The austerity era’s hip-hop-schooled punks haven’t shifted in tone from their first couple of albums under the current line-up, but this one hangs together the best.
Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods were one of 2014’s least likely success stories, Jason Williamson’s furious stream-of-consciousness abstractions and Andrew Fearn’s primitive beats seemingly at odds with all other prevailing sounds. Any worries that wider approval might have dimmed Williamson’s anger prove to be unfounded: Key Markets finds him railing against politicians – Clegg, Miliband (“a chirping cunt”), Boris Johnson – as well as less obvious targets, includin gearly-00s garage rockers the Von Bondies and model David Gandy. If it were just witless invective, its appeal would swiftly pall, but beneath the swearing there’s a sharp sense of humour and even sharper powers of observation, Williamson’s freeform wordplay painting vivid pictures of an at times uncomfortably recognisable contemporary Britain.
Amid a dearth of disaffected pop, Sleaford Mods have picked up the baton and sprinted with it. The Nottingham duo’s third cracker in three years finds producer Andrew Fearn’s insistent beats and basslines again providing the perfect vehicle for Jason Williamson’s furiously spluttered, sweary rhymes. His scattergun blunderbuss takes fire at anything and everything: his mates’ music taste (“Put the CD on.
In between the recording of the third Sleaford Mods album and its release, two of its highest-profile lyrical targets have been consigned to effective political oblivion. “Miliband got hit with the ugly stick, not that it matters / The chirping cunt obviously wants the country in tatters”, growls frontman Jason Williamson during ‘In Quiet Streets’. “Nick Clegg wants another chance.
Jason Williamson's speaking voice is gloriously bilious: hoarse with fury, spraying plosives everywhere, turning up the kinked corners of his East Midlands accent as far as they'll go, cramming syllables into every line because nobody's going to fooken shut him up, mate. It's the cornerstone of Sleaford Mods' sound, underscored by double-tracking on crucial phrases; the music behind it is loops made by Andrew Fearn, the other half of the band, mostly from blunt basement-rock bass and drums. (On stage, the two of them are a delightful contrast: Williamson burning-eyed and venting, Fearn hanging back with a beer in his hand, bobbing his head and not even pretending to do more than press the start button at the beginning of each song.
Key Markets, the latest album from Sleaford Mods, is an impressive show of force from a duo with the chemistry that comes from having worked together for years but none of the complacency. Combining elements of hip-hop, punk, and noise, the English duo specialize in irreverent, driving songs full of palpable anger, like a bastardized midpoint between The Fall and The Streets. Vocalist Jason Williamson alternates between barely in-tune singing and full-on shouting, while producer Andrew Fearn matches his intensity with sparse yet forceful backing music, providing just enough to fill the spaces in his partner’s polemics.
Recently, I’ve been reading The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It, fueled mainly by my own post-election apathy. Within its pages, Owen Jones proposes that the British ruling classes — and he straddles party lines in saying this — are a series of interconnected, interdependent groups: politicians, bloggers, think tanks, etc. To Jones’s mind, the establishment’s free-market groupthink has the ability to distort reality, turning radical ideas into populist belief through clever organization and paradigmatic sloganeering.
The Sleaford Mods equation is simple: junkyard beats + British accent + profanity laden rants = a damn good sound. The Nottingham duo were sneakily making some of the weirdest, and best, punkish music in the UK until Divide and Exit was unleashed upon the world. Jason Williamson, the angriest man in England five years running, found his caustic monologues perfectly accented by Andrew Fearn’s decaying backgrounds, making Divide and Exit one of 2014’s best surprises.
From the outside, Sleaford Mods’ meteoric rise to fame seems a bit Lovecraft-ish. Here was this belching bloke that spews curses at anyone and anything, with his silent partner nodding away at the decks to his bleak bass-crawl beats. It seemed like a shtick for bar-type crypts only, the kind where every cranny is caked in something – dust, beer, sweat, grease, noise.
Sleaford Mods are currently enjoying a long-awaited moment of keen public interest. With a triumphant Glastonbury appearance and a sold-out tour of delapidated small towns behind them, collaborations with the Prodigy and Leftfield completed, a further national tour and documentary imminent, and even an NME-pleasing feud with drivelling twats Slaves to their names, they've become the darlings of a certain type of music bloke. You know the one: the guy who'll tell you it's great to see politics back in the music.
Key Markets is Sleaford Mods’ eighth record, but only their third since really grasping the attention of a wider audience. Thankfully their approach is no different to that taken on their first release (Sleaford Mods in 2007) - the energy, agression and lyrical genius of Jason Williamson is front and centre as always, complimented by Andrew Frean’s distinctively minimalist instrumental loops that straddle hip hop and punk rock. The record sounds as though it was made over the course of a long boozey weekend, and - aside from the writing of the dense, bilious slew of lyrics, which are obviously laboured over - it wouldn't be surprising if it actually was.