Sleaford Mods

When I first heard Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods, Jason Williamson’s unhinged vocal delivery immediately captured my attention. Their minimalist music—which is simply Williamson ranting about working-class struggles over Andrew Fern’s sparse, chintzy electronic beats—could appeal to anarcho-punks, hip-hop heads, and Mark E. Smith devotees alike. Williamson is a force: wide-eyed and frothing at the mouth, he breathlessly spills out his profanity-laden, machine-gun rap-ramblings, and onstage he’s the punkest, angriest madman you’ve ever seen perform. A few years ago, I noticed that Sleaford Mods had seemed to soften their approach. Starting on 2017’s English Tapas, Williamson began delivering his lyrics with a bit more restraint, even permitting himself some harmonizing and catchiness. On their brand-new LP for Rough Trade, Spare Ribs, the first thing that hit me was the slower tempos of the songs—I initially felt some disappointment, as I realized that Williamson might never again be the deranged maniac on the mike that he once was. But upon further listening, I’m finding this to be one of the best collections of songs the duo have ever made. Williamson trades fury for focus, letting gloomy melodies and frustrated storytelling channel his power rather than simply spraying it everywhere. Sleaford Mods sound calmer and more collected than they’ve ever been on Spare Ribs, but there’s dark energy under that surface—and it suits them well.   v