Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review wrap-up

I've still been managing a review a week at RapReviews. I thought I'd stop this year, but I'm managing so I'll keep going for now. I have three new reviews up;

I reviewed Jack Jetson's "Further Adventures of Johnny Strange" last week.

I also reviewed Ruane Maurice's self-titled.

And the Sleaford Mods "Divide and Exit," posted below.

Sleaford Mods are not from Sleaford, not mods, and not a hip-hop group. They are generally classified as punk; I came across "Divide and Exit" after I heard several people call it the punk album of the year. All I could think of when I heard them, however, was that they were a rap group. Singer Jason Williamson speaks rhythmically over producer Andrew Fearn's beats. Sure, Williamson's heavily accented rants are more similar to Crass's Steve Ignorant than Lil Wayne, and Fearn's beats often feature guitar, bass, and drums. But they are beats, and Williamson's rants are not singing. They may not be classified as a hip-hop group, but it sounds a lot like rap music to me. In fact, it is one of the best pairings of punk and hip-hop since P.O.S.'s "Never Better."

Semantics aside, "Divide and Exit" is a brutal but funny album. Williamson takes a cynical and caustic view of contemporary living. Every punk band since the Ramones has criticized the boring squares, but the fact that Williamson is in his forties gives his rants extra bite. It's one thing to skewer the middle-aged middle class when you are twenty years old and living under your parents' roof, but it is another thing altogether when a peer is doing it. On "You're Brave" he calls out a wealthy weekend warrior whose money hasn't managed to buy him taste or respect. On this song, as with most of the album, Williamson (or his character) is right there, doing drugs with the guy and sneering at him the whole time:

"Sat around the bloke's house
He liked me because I made some informed comment
About the early history of his fucking country
Big mirror
Lumps of drugs
His own private lift
Shit pieces of art
Matter-of-fact statements about how he is picking his kids up
In two hours
As if
You're brave"

A lot of the songs have a stream-of-consciousness feel to them. That, along with the incessant swearing and frequent drug and scatological references, make "Divide and Exit" feel like an Irvine Welsh book come to life. There's a bit of "Trainspotting" in "Tied Up in Nottz," for example:

"The smell of piss is so strong
It smells like decent bacon
Kevin's getting footloose on the overspill
Under the piss-station
Two pints destroyer on the cobbled floors
No amount of whatever is gonna chirp the chip up
It's the final countdown
My fucking Journey
I woke up with shit in my sock outside the Polish off-license
'They don't mind' said the asshole to the legs
You got to be cruel to be kind, shit man
Save it up like Norman Colon
Release the stench of shit grub like a giant toilet kraken
The lonely life that is touring
I got an armful of decent tunes, mate
But it's all so fucking boring"

Williamson had been kicking around his ranting style for a while, but it is when he met Fearn that Sleaford Mods really became a group. Fearn's mix of punk rock with hip-hop beats provide a sonic backbone that perfectly supports Williamson's spoken word/singing/rapping/whatever. Williamson may be the core of Sleaford Mods, but without Fearn's beats it would just be a guy ranting for forty minutes. Fearn's beats give dynamics and variety to the album and to the band.
The resulting album is an intense, visceral experience. It manages to combine the aggression of both punk and hip-hop. However you want to classify it, "Divide and Exit" is a great album.

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