Sleaford Mods Key Markets

[Harbinger Sound; 2015]

Styles: post-punk, grit, vitriol
Others: Mark E. Smith, Shaun Ryder, The Streets

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. As well-researched and laboriously written as it is, it’s difficult to view the book as anything more than a lamentation for the country’s decimated left wing. It hardly surprises with its documentation of corruption and hypocrisy within the UK’s upper echelons; after all, these facets often lie in plain sight, exposed via news outlets and social media on a fairly regular basis.

We’re left with no solution, no way out. But for Nottingham’s Sleaford Mods, there’s no reason to worry. “Is it right to analyze in a general sense the capital machine, its inner workings, and what they mean?” asks Jason Williamson on “Face to Faces” in a jarring moment of eloquence. It might be enough to contemplate new horizons for Williamson’s punk poetry, a shift away from the vitriolic bile upon which the Mods made their name. Of course, this gesture of lucidity is a red herring, as he immediately follows it up with “passive articles on political debate, its implications are fucking meaningless, mate.” The message is clear: we’re all fucked anyway, so what good will come of yet another book or thinkpiece? “You’re trapped; me too, alienation, no one’s bothered.”

Key Markets is Sleaford Mods’ third album for Harbinger Sound in as many years, and it naturally continues the thread of utter contempt that runs throughout their body of work. Between Austerity Dogs and last year’s stellar Divide and Exit, there was a subtle but nonetheless tangible sense of evolution, in both Williamson’s lyrics and Andrew Fearn’s instrumentals. The mixing was cleaner, but it sounded just as potent; the bank of references was expanded, even if the vernacular that delivered them wasn’t. Once again, the jump to Key Markets is a small but purposeful one. It’s probably the most deliberately-sequenced Mods album to date, eschewing the front-loaded nature of past releases for a more evenly-spread dose of postmodern anger. The album’s weirder impulses — Williamson himself has called it “quite abstract” — are also telling of the group’s progression, as their barebones drum-and-bass setup is expanded with electronic squeals and on-the-fly sampling.

However sonically adventurous Fearn’s backing tracks get, it’s Williamson’s venomous East-Midlands sprechgesang that captures the very essence of what Sleaford Mods are all about. Nothing and nobody is safe: gig promoters, club owners, politicians, and, in a fantastic (if somewhat inaccurate) turn, Dave Rowntree of Blur are all subject to biting lyrical attacks throughout the course of the album. From extremely blunt puns and wordplay (“a twat with nine lives,” “no locker, no Davy”) to bizarre extended metaphors (the entirety of “Tarantula Deadly Cargo”), Key Markets is often flat-out hilarious while still touching the raw nerves of modern British existence, casting a droll eye upon a very troubling reality.

There’s a distinct allure about the Mods, and given their guest spots on new albums by Leftfield and the Prodigy, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. For me, what makes these guys so exciting is that their music speaks volumes about rejection — at first from society, then back towards it. On “Bronx in a Six,” this is posited succinctly with a simple one-two punch: “What culture? Fuck culture!” While it may lack the freshness and shock-of-the-new presented by their previous full-lengths, Key Markets marks the next logical step for the band; the sound of Sleaford Mods’ ultimate rejection.

Links: Sleaford Mods - Harbinger Sound

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