Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
Harbinger Sound Records
By Graham Isaac
It’s nearly impossible to review the new Sleaford Mods album as an album, without also reviewing Sleaford Mods the concept. Over the last few years, as the Nottingham duo have gained notoriety, much of the press has focused on the group’s age, politics, class stature, and mission statement, with passing references to the music. This is not entirely inappropriate; few non-hip hop groups in recent memory have attached as much importance to where they’re from, openly stating who their music is for. When you self-describe as “minimalist punk-hop for the working class,” you’re probably going to get more directed questions.
So it’s a bit vexing to review this record; as someone rather new to the Mods, but completely fucking on board, one hopes that the new record will be an indisputable masterpiece. Key Markets is not that; it takes a bit long to take off and stumbles a bit in parts, but it is a solid addition to the Mods’ arsenal.
That said, like many punk and hip hop artists, Sleaford Mods may not be an album band, and indeed, these days, would they really need to be? Vocalist/lyricist Jason Williamson still spits a mix of hotly articulated rage, cynical asides, and the odd right-down-the-middle punchline (“by Victoria’s not very good secret – they’re knickers, mate.”) but on Key Markets he sings a bit more. Tracks like the excellent “No Ones Bothered” and the less excellent “Tarantula Deadly Cargo” fall entirely on the sing side of Williamson’s talk/sing approach.
Andrew Fearn’s beats are a bit more polished – still minimalist, but slight additions, such as the drop-out after the hook on “The Blob” or keyboard backings on “Face to Faces.” These are small additions, but demonstrate a handle on what makes music like this work. On the whole, the tracks here are slower than on last year’s blistering Divide and Exit, but this allows Williamson to conjure some creeping paranoia on cuts like “Silly Me” and “Arabia.”
It’s tempting to turn a review like this into a list of great quotes; suffice to say Williamson is one of the harshest, most captivating lyricists working in any genre; even the weakest tracks here are worth a twice-over. Which is why it’s disappointing when Williamson draws too heavily from his recent successes – he’s simply less interesting when going on about idiot sound guys or bands he doesn’t like than when he takes on political power structures, or the numbing effects of daily life. When he refers to Ed Milliband as “a chirping cunt who obviously wants the country in tatters,” there’s a sense of urgency; this is a voice we need. When he criticizes another band’s haircut, it’s you know, kinda funny. So the fact that four of the first five tracks trade a lot in the latter brand of kiss offs is far less compelling than the second half of the record, which contains most of the best songs, including the brilliant “In Quiet Streets.” Over Kearn’s bouncy, off-kilter bassline Williamson goes full barrel for three minutes before shifting into a haunting, sung outro that reveals the person behind the rage.
Still, the compelling, necessary, and often hilarious outweighs the rest by far. This album may not be the defining document for Sleaford Mods, but Kearns and Williamson will continue to define themselves on their own terms, no matter what. – (7.5/10)