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Sleaford Mods Key Markets Harbinger Sound

It can be difficult to draw clear distinctions between each release from Nottingham no-fi punk-rap duo Sleaford Mods. Their more-or-less annual albums over the past eight years (plus EPs and compilations) have charted a clear progression, but it’s merged into one gradual process. Key Markets feels different: a statement, a marker.

That can be largely put down to Andrew Fearn’s ambitious and striking set of instrumentals. So often the supporting cast, the straight-man, it’s worth bearing in mind that in the Mods’ burgeoning stronghold of Germany, where Jason Williamson’s vocals are often illegible or his references unrelatable, Fearn’s production is the band’s primary draw. Key Markets sees him delve into skipping rockabilly, the subtle soundscapes of Can, offbeat IDM, and even, in the almost omnipresent woody bass sound, the experimental hardcore of Minutemen.

In an unpublished excerpt from our recent cover feature with the band, Williamson stated “I love everything [Fearn] shows me these days … I think he’s one of the best musicans in the country”, and that admiration colours each track. It’s difficult to tell whether the album’s thematic direction has dictated the tone of the production, or vice-versa: be that in the sinister surrealism of Tarantula Deadly Cargo – taking its name from an obscure 1970s TV horror film and pitching the band as some sort of toxic unit being transported from place to place – or the dire dirge of Rupert Trousers, where even some of the album’s best comic one-liners are downplayed by the monochrome hum of the track. There’s little light here; the fire is subsidised for listless distance, the bolshy gnarl for sombre melody.

This is an album about desolation and small town dejection; the raging has quieted, the hopelessness is implicit. Scattergun ranting is reserved for occasional bursts, like the rampant, livid poison pen letter Bronx in a Six, or the roughshod, rapid judder of Giddy On The Ciggies. But more than ever, it feels like every single word has its place in a carefully-aligned landscape – even if that word is a mottled, splattered, spat ‘cunt’.

Key Markets is a heavy and hard listen. It’s not Sleaford Mods’ most explosive or explicit document, but it might just be their most affecting.