When I first heard the Streets in 2003, I was extremely confused. To me, it was “un-music,” using feeble backing tracks as a vessel for a specific brand of storytelling. In Mike Skinner’s case, it was privileged, drugged up frustrations, and it was extremely British. I hated it at the time but as I got older I realized that the bro-iness was essential to the storytelling and that the music itself, all scrappy synths and tiny beats, perfectly surmised the thrown together mess of Napster culture. It was art, whether I liked it or not.
Had the Sleaford Mods existed then, I likely would have had similar hatred. The music sounds like squashed punk rock, with simplified beat loops, direct-in guitar tracks, and a vocalist that is the epitome of the working class English loudmouth. The words are not sung – they are hurled at you, often with complete disregard for meter or structure. In many ways, they’re a group that could be brilliant – they have the capacity to be the British Death Grips if the backing tracks were wilder and the vocals not so dry. That dryness brings vocalist Jason Williamson’s vocals to a flat forefront. They’re inescapable, but rather then being particularly threatening, they just sound like the rantings of a middle-aged barfly.
Though rants they may be, the tracks on Chubbed Up+ which collects all their vinyl only singles from the past few years, are downright biting and hilarious. All these tracks feature musician Andrew Fearn who joined the group permanently in 2012 making them a duo (previous recordings were often Williamson shouting his bit over a sample). His backing tracks keep things caustic but quiet, while Williamson goes off on everything from the dehumanization of the work industry (“Jobseeker”), to the pathetic rabble of aging rock stars (“Pubic Hair Ltd.)”. Unlike the duo’s 2012 album Wank, the Mods steer mostly clear of hip-hop for a primarily rock-oriented compilation, which is a much better fit for two white guys in their 40s. “Black Monday” is a bass-driven punk tune with a “Janie Jones” beat, “14 Day Court” sounds like Prodigy with “big” taken out of “big beat,” and most of the rest sounds like early PiL with beat boxes in place of a real drummer.
The main attraction though of course is Williamson. On singles like the frantic “Jolly Fucker.” he can hardly contain his venom. “Promote yourself/you look like a cunt fuck at parties…60 kids/where’s mine?/wasting money on shit coffee all the time.” On “Tweet Tweet Tweet,” he attacks the laziness of internet agers in the face of government atrocities, “Chopped heads on London streets/All you zombies tweet tweet tweet,” and on “14 Day Court,” he’s just pissed because some twat told him he looked like Liam Gallagher.
The Sleaford Mods don’t fuck around, and they’re matter-of-fact approach is partially alienating, partially thrilling. A half hour or tracks (the length of this collection) is about as long a time one could feasibly spend with them before they start to become irritating (as fun as these songs be, the consistent holler of Jason Williamson can be extremely tiring if left unchecked). Still, they’re a nice entry in the proliferation of what I would have naively called “un-music” when I was younger, but what is now shockingly originality and satisfyingly audacious.