Sleaford Mods don’t make music about how terrible things are in hopes that they will get better. Over the past decade, Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson have channeled public discontent and everyday malaise in the UK, scrutinizing their country’s faults as well as their own. And though they’ve found personal growth and commercial success, the Mods’ outlook hasn’t brightened. On their new album, UK GRIM, things are bad and only getting worse. Government is incompetent; hypocrisy is alive and well in the upper ranks of society; consumerist conformity is a plague and music can’t save you. All this probably sounds like your recent doom scroll, but UK GRIM is balanced by the mutating electro-punk of Fearn’s production and the absurdist humor with which Williamson seeds his diatribes.
Fearn has always thought less is more. “I think people try too hard and there’s too much turd polishing,” he once stated of the competition. His approach is uniquely austere—a steady kick drum paired with chirping birds or clanking iron, plus a prowling bass. On UK GRIM, a simple formula (“Get a really crap drum beat and play a bassline over it”) still leads to unexpected places. If the lyrics offer no sense of consolatory hope, there’s still the chameleonic vibrancy of the music, and the strongest tracks contain a shifting guitar flourish that feels like connective tissue between the boldface beats and cantankerous vocals. In “On the Ground,” Fearn transforms the zaps of retro Atari games into rubbery, panicked synth-punk. The album’s most bizarre highlight, “So Trendy,” casts Perry Farrell in the role of a selfie-obsessed gym bro who ponders getting a “mushroom haircut and a cross earring.” Synthetic bleeps and blurgs pop up like a Whac-A-Mole, balanced by an ascending distorted guitar melody that morphs into fevered surf rock.
In Williamson’s quasi-spoken social commentary, no one comes out clean: You’re either full of shit or busy dealing with someone else’s. “I got crisis stamina,” he spews on the title track. “Full marathon, four poo breaks.” Further still: “I can feel the shit from your crisis rays/Spray out my back.” Ridiculous reality calls for ridiculous rhetoric, and UK GRIM is an overflowing toilet. But Williamson balances the biting takedowns—of Britain’s conservative party on “Tory Kong” and try-hard punk wannabes on “D.I.Why”—with referential character vignettes and chaotic scenes that turn self-reflective. “Right Wing Beast” begins by attacking ignorant partisanship but lands on a revealing monologue about the psychic toll that opposing values can take on a relationship. “I thought about deleting you on socials,” he admits, breaking his sing-song tone. “Because you keep coming in with stuff and it’s winding me up to be honest. I never see ya. I don’t want to either.”