Key Markets feels more like one long culturally-specific, socio-political rant.
Sleaford Mods sound almost exactly like their name, heavily accented and loaded with slang-filled rants like a minimalist version of the Streets after spending seven straight nights drinking and smoking their way through the whole country. Over droning bass and skittering drums, Jason Williamson rails and spits his rhymes to the point where you can almost hear the spittle hitting the microphone. Fusing post-punk instrumentals with blue collar raps, Sleaford Mods functions as a modern-day Ian Dury & the Blockheads, minus the latter’s more intricate arrangements.
On Key Markets, their third album in less than two years, the duo of Williamson and Andrew Fearn deviate little from their established stylistic template. With each track following the same structural template of heavily repetitive bass and drum patterns and Williamson’s conversationally rhythmic rapping, it can be hard to differentiate between the dozen tracks here.
Key Markets feels more like one long culturally-specific, socio-political rant or monologue against modern life divided into 12 separate tangents, each offering their fair share of vitriol laced with humor. It’s an ideal document for Anglophiles looking to fill the void left by the Streets, but who also have an affinity for the minimalist post-punk of Suicide and early Fall. It’s an admittedly odd combination that generally works in their favor.
Whether or not this makes Key Markets an enjoyable album is another matter entirely. While the concept in theory sounds moderately intriguing, in practice it can quickly become a dull affair of monotonous, densely layered wordplay and instrumental backing that’s an afterthought than an integral part of the track itself. This isn’t to say there aren’t quality tracks on the album, but there is more overall quantity than quality.
Bookended by two of the album’s best tracks, “Live Tonight” and “The Blob,” much of the album’s middle feels slightly tossed off, but in a way that fits the Sleaford Mods’ aesthetic. Each track flips between humor and rage, sometimes within just a few lines, causing an at times jarring juxtaposition in which you can’t tell if Williamson is being sincere or putting us on.
“Bronx in a Six” features one of the album’s more obtuse lyrical references, calling out the Von Bondies’ Jason Stollsteimer for fighting with Jack White (and getting what he allegedly deserved). It’s a weirdly dated putdown, and some 13 years after the highly publicized brawl took place, it comes somewhat out of nowhere but still manages to land. But much of the album’s rants are built around esoteric, left-of-center references and wordplay.
Closing track “The Blob” distills the duo’s best elements into a tight two and a half minutes. Put-downs of Two Door Cinema Club, morning pool farts that can’t be enjoyed from an olfactory standpoint, calling out Victoria’s not very good Secret (they’re knickers, mate) and a host of other equally bizarre asides and comedic imagery flow freely from Williamson’s mouth. Often absurd, his gruff charm and East Midlands accent help to better sell these more out-there moments and references.
While the music itself is often lacking, it’s far from the central focus of the tracks, leaving Williamson ample room to spread out and let his words fly forth in a torrent of drunken vitriol and barbed put-downs. Perhaps not the most polished of efforts, it nonetheless proves to be a more or less enjoyable 40 odd minutes spent in the decidedly British company of the Sleaford Mods.