The Sleaford Mods are suddenly becoming a popular sensation with their blend of English crossness and grass roots punk. The duo is releasing Key Markets on July 24, their third proper album their count or eighth my count. The Mods are not attempting anything crossover or radio friendly; but are counter intuitively striving to stay true to the ethos of “roots” punk. Their music is minimalist with flashes of electronic and hip hop; the overriding influence is British 70’s Punk. The subgenre best characterized as is an in your face fist instead of a hug hello. Keeping this in mind it should come as no surprise to anyone who happens to stray upon the Mod’s website that you will be immediately greeted with a picture of the duo in silhouette holding a sign reading Fuck off and a middle finger as an icon on the menu. It is crystal clear they are not looking to court the cotton wool wrapped private school knobs.
The Mods were founded in 2007 by Jason Williamson and Simon Parfrement in Nottingham, England. In 2012, Parfrement stepped back from the musical side of the band but remains active in the background as the band photographer and media producer. Williamson recruited Andrew Fearn into the Mod’s when he heard him playing in a café in Nottingham. Since his addition, musical responsibilities break down to Williamson on lyrics and vocals and Fearn in charge of the soundtrack. Williamson’s vocal style has been compared to Shaun Ryder, Ian Dury, Mark E. Smith and John Cooper Clarke.
To understand the Mods, a brief review of the event of Punk would not go amiss. The Punk of the seventies cleared the air and inspired countless amateurs to take up guitars against a sea of mediocre faceless corporate rock. Punk rock injected anger, rebellion and risk taking back into the almost comatose corpse of mass success rock. Many bands have taken up the flag of Punk since its heydays in the late seventies, but as with many genres it soon became filled with hipsters and wannabees who killed the very ethos they purported to champion. Sleaford Mods seem to be attempting to single handily resuscitate British Punk in its classic form. The Mods are the unlikely electronic offspring of the Ramones. Their limitations played to their best advantage. Sleaford’s signature sound is Williamson’s swear laden beat poetry vocalized over Fearn’s stark minimal beats. Where seminal Punk availed itself on guitars and a limited amount of chords, Williamson and Fearn have the use of technology and experimental ability of Hip Hop infused Punk to vent their anger and frustration.
Key Markets finds the Sleaford Mods practicing in the classic traditional topics of Punk; as they rail against the pointlessness of politics, delusions of grandeur and worship of our betters be, they the toffs or rock celebrities. Williamson’s bile spewing anger is cathartic as it calls out all the things that are going wrong for the umpteenth time. On display is a tsunami of disgust about the UK and the world sliding farther into hopelessness and disillusionment as aptly chronicled by the Mods. The disc kicks off with Live Tonight which sounds at first like captured sound from any pub in the UK and then breaks into a funky bass. It is a Sex Pistols era Johnny Rotten meets funky Hip Hop. In the lyric a “hardman” at the pub holds forth making his nightly observations about the people in the pub and life in general. For the uninitiated this is the introduction to what the Mod’s are all about. Following is the song, No One Bothered a dub step nihilistic call to arms. The lyrics speak to how the most outrageous things are going on and literally no one is bothered or outraged; shrugging off the unacceptable and trudging on with life. Williamson points out that society’s ability to care has been worn away by the sheer volume of all that is wrong with the world. It is a song Joe Strummer would have loved.
One of my favorites on the album, Bronx on 6 has absolutely nothing to do with NYC and everything to do with calling out wannabe hipsters and hypocrites. The “Bronx” in the title is a shoe that is a must have for posers. Williamson rails against what was called “Slumming” in my day, rich posers getting grubby in the slums until it gets too real and then drive their Land Rover back to their mansion. The song also calls out all the “Rock Stars” who are so very environmentally or politically concerned until the cameras turn off and they bolt for their limo with entourage in tow to board their private plane. The Mods spare no one, saving special venom for the politicians who offer shillings and blankets to the poor. Lyrics like “…chinny wine tasters die in boxes like the rest of us wasters… and all gone quite on the wanker front”; display just an ounce of the anger Williamson has for these hypocrites.
Silly Me has a twangy funk sound, where Williamson observes that there is no way to avoid the crap of life and you have to work your way through it to the other end.
He rages against how the public votes for the same subpar people who will betray them again once the election season is over. Calling to mind the adage,” fool me once shame on you, fool me again shame on me”. Cunt Make it Up has a more standard song structure. It takes a twist on the common quip “You can’t make it up” when faced with absurdity. The song once again takes to task sold out rockers and poncy toffs. Face to Faces was written before the recent UK election taking to task Nick Clegg and how he was saying all the right things on camera, while backing up all the wrong things with his actions. Here again Williamson points out how aggravating it is to see the UK public fall for the same old lies only to get the short end of the stick again and again. There is also his frustration and outrage with the shamelessness of the corrupt and the depth of corruption in the country that is miles deep.
Arabia has a glichy techno back track. Here Williamson identifies how pissed off he is at man’s vile human nature and how it is responsible for all the dystopia that surrounds us. Where what was once taken for granted as something one would always have, is now a privilege or priced out of reach. The humor of certain lyrics is a veneer that allows the harsh truth to hit home. In Quiet Streets Ed Millband is taken to task for being such a failure; he is cast as looking to offer just enough to keep the everyman quiet to get their vote. Best described in the lyric, “…nowhere money in nowhere land.” The lo-fi of the song give it authenticity that would be lost if it was more slick. Throughout the album the music supports and never overwhelms the powerful monologue. Neither member of the Mods is claiming musical virtuoso status, but the rough and ready feel is everything Punk has always been about, and where little idealism if ever is left.
Tarantula Deadly Cargo takes its title from a 70’s movie of the same title. It has a funky heavy beat and great bass. The tarantulas are used to symbolize the chaos of modern life. Williamson suggests that European posers are more dangerous than tarantula deadly cargo. Implying that as bad as things are he wishes all we had to worry about would be a tarantula infestation. Rupert Trousers carries an underlying techno feel as the song continues the theme of calling out the posh who continue to grind down the poor, with the droll lyric, “…Idiots visit submerged village in 200 pound wellies, Spitting out fine cheese made by that tool from Blur…even the drummer is a fuckin’ MP.”
A track not to miss is Giddy on Ciggies, a marriage of Devo and the Clash, a brilliant techno punk outing. The song is loaded with angry energy. The lyrics spit out so fast on this track you have to give a few runs to catch it all. The song references Kasabian and Noel Gallagher as they are equated to the clueless privileged. The song’s tempo is fast and furious as it continues to build speed to the end. The other theme of the song is how grey life is for the average person, where the cigarette break is the only thing to look forward to and the means to help cope with the mundane without exploding.
The final song, The Blob has a heavy plodding bass. It reminds me of The Pixies when Frank Black is at his most mad and pissed off. The Blob itself is all the ill will that is out there consuming us with out a care; making us join in and give up the fight. “The Blob ain’t bothered, its slime don’t care, it is all about the pity party.”
Sleaford Mods Key Markets is not for the faint of heart and those who dislike confrontation or discussing politics. The Mods hold up a mirror to our civilization and reflect a very unattractive picture. Surprisingly for all the venom and anger that almost boarders on madness at times, the Sleaford Mods are very relatable. You don’t have to have all of Williamson’s convictions and complaints to appreciate his viewpoint. You just have to have a general intolerance for small minds and thieving bastard hypocrites no matter the political stripe. The attraction is how unfiltered and forthright the Sleaford Mods are in delivering their jeremiad. We live in a cautious age where no one wants to offend or be offended; it is refreshing to encounter the truth as the Mods see it in language anyone could understand. Other artists may say the same things more tactfully but never with more conviction. Here is a duo who are the fearless Cassandra of our age.