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. With the follow up Key Markets, Sleaford Mods have brilliantly stayed to their original formula, with a few tweaks to keep things fresh.
Williamson’s toxic vocal delivery hasn’t changed a bit in a year. His rapid fire paragraphs over the fall and death of Western Civilization are as devastating as ever. “What culture? Fuck culture” he howls on the looming “Bronx in a Six”, which appears to be a massive middle finger to the entirety of humanity, neatly wrapped up in three and a half minutes. You get the feeling that Williamson could be any of us, with the final straw just placed on his aching back. He’s ready to throttle his boss or hang himself with a tie in the cubical, but, before he’s fired or dead, he’s got a few dozen complaints to spit.
Williamson is at his most poisonous “Cunt Make it Up” and if the title didn’t tip you off, its got enough f-bombs and various other curses to peel paint. Fearn, as always, is a great partner in crime for Williamson. Live, Fearn is never ashamed of just pushing play and knocking back a beer as Williamson preforms his acidic couplets and he shouldn’t be. His beats work like broken machines, the whine of a dying air conditioner, the moan of a fuzzed-out guitar, and constant thudding drum kits are his tools of destruction, a great background for the post-apocalyptic waste of Williamson’s world. “Face to Faces” holds a slight and eerie keyboard riff floating over Williamson’s shouts and “No One’s Bothered” has one of Fearn’s finest beats, all metallic bass and thwacking drum loops.
Key Markets evolves in the slower pieces, for better and worse. Opener “Live Tonight”, despite its short run length, actually takes some time before Williamson starts calling people “wankers” over a rusty bass riff. Williamson also delivers his best send of: “you ain’t got permission to, unless I tell you to open your mouth”. The nearly funky “Silly Me” is a fascinating look into what the Mods might be in the future. Williamson slows things down for a more morose call and response game, one of the few times that his rant-rap style sounds like another artist, namely The Fall. Fearn’s work here is delicious, a bass riff dripping with slime over a drum line that sounds just behind the beat.
Key Markets certainly doesn’t fall apart in the second half, but it can’t quite find the same highlights. “Arabia” is one of Fearn’s few missteps from the production side and Key Markets’ lack of punk tempos means that the entire album never finds a song like “Jobseeker”, “Jolly Fucker”, or “Tweet Tweet Tweet”, Sleaford Mod’s angriest and finest songs. Thankfully that doesn’t stop Williamson screaming about assholes who got “hit by the ugly stick” on “In Quiet Streets” or trying out a more hushed approach on the menacing “Rupert Trousers”.
Key Markets feels more skeletal than its older brother and suffers for it, but, as ever, Sleaford Mods seem to be in an untouchable streak, still pushing out punishing song after punishing song, with Key Markets delivering some of their best material yet in “Silly Me” and “Live Tonight”. Of course the Sleaford devotees and the duo themselves probably don’t give a fuck about what I say, or anyone else for that matter. Or rather, let me quote Williamson properly: “I couldn’t get a shit what you think about me”. And that’s what makes Sleaford Mods so exhilarating.