Chubbed Up +
Following much of the rhythmic and minimal throb of Factory-era post-punk and, of course, hip hop's rise from being a "sample sport," as Public Enemy once put it, to the largely trap-centric hit machine it is today, Sleaford Mods embodies a tirade-level synthesis of the two: a beat-powered device with which to bathe in poetic and profanity-laced commentary. The group (vocalist Jason Williamson and track maker Andrew Fearn) gained some notoriety stateside with its 2013 release, Austerity Dogs, despite having been about five albums deep in its discography. The group's new release, Chubbed Up +, is a singles compilation that includes three previously unreleased tracks. It was released by Ipecac Recordings.
The mostly repetitious loop'd loop of springy bass riffs and flat percussion offer Sleaford Mods the distinction of being the more sophisticated offshoot of something loosely akin to Wesley Willis while Williamson's rage succeeds at some level in being both engaging and amusing. This is especially true of "Jobseeker," wherein he's playing both the prospective employer and employee roles during a job interview, ("So, Mr. Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment since your last signing on date?" "Fuck all! I sat around the house wankin.'"), Fearn's synthesizer and percussion treatments purposefully goofy. Throughout the length of Chubbed Up + I do find myself laughing at Williamson's more humorous observations than captivated by his serious and perhaps even more legitimized critique of society as a whole. And maybe that's due to his voice, itself the cartoon'ish offspring of some magical union having occurred between Brick Top and Gargamel.
Having said that, Williamson is lyrically provocative and I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the weight of much of what he speaks. In "Scenery" Williamson declares, "I'll be the first generation to take a real drop in living standards," and it's difficult to argue. The song is a multi-class summation in what could be a day in the neighborhood, cynically pointed and relatable to many who breathe air and live day to day with their eyes open. While the cultural discrepancies are many, there's an everyman perspective at work with Sleaford Mods that, despite Williamson's vernacular, is easy to absorb even if it is presented in a non-linear and scattered manner.
The excited jog of "Black Monday for the Tory" cites social unrest and seems to point to some futility in demonstration: "We took back the streets through the potholes and the last remaining internet cafes on the boulevard/We overturned world order: 10,000 strong/It's not enough anymore just to have a fucking singalong."
And, then there's "Jolly Fucker," which puts a face and a name to the group's numerous targets of discontent. "I rot away in the aisles of the co-op, mate—no prob!" Williamson blurts, his passionate array of stanzas peppered with gems about "arrogant cunts," "wasting money on shit coffee all the time" and "loads of office turds." The "Bah, bah, crack sheep! Have you any rock!?!" line is one of my favorite on the album.
Despite being a compilation, Chubbed Up + is sequenced well enough to present as an LP, "Committee" providing a strong and serious opener, the aforementioned "Jobseeker" adding humor and then the funk-laden head knock of "14 Day Court" being the more dimensionally composed combo of the two. Williamson's spoken freestyle rarely falls in line rhythmically, a mad rush of words spewed between song titles and some attempts at choruses, though he's likely to simply speak the name of the song a few times in place of a hook. Comparisons to The Fall's Mark E. Smith are certainly accurate, though Williamson lacks Smith's flamboyance, his demeanor something closer to football hooligan. When he finds his place, he comes off as more of a hardcore vocalist, no real melody to distill or growl to abuse, but syllabic placement. Probably the best examples of this would be the distinctly atmospheric "Tweet Tweet Tweet" and the less impressive "Pubic Hair Ltd.," ("Who gives a fuck about yesterday's heroes?"). And then the album's closer, "Fear of Anarchy," which at points sounds like a late 90s straggler from the Go soundtrack, finds him almost singing.
While I wouldn't call this collection of songs uneven, certainly some tracks are better than others. That being said, Sleaford Mods' brand of rebel yell is at its best honest and thoughtful, not just the mental runoff of some seething malcontents whose words are inspired by social media and online propaganda. As with a group like Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, Sleaford Mods' poetry of life finds its soapbox through song, frustration and anxiety shaped into something meaningful. I just wish there was some hope in there somewhere, too.
Letters From A Tapehead
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