Sing-shouter Jason Williamson and laptop button pusher/programmer Andrew Fearn, the two men behind electropunk duo Sleaford Mods, are back again with English Tapas, a fourth fry-up of scrambled slices of working-class life in England. This is their first full-length on Rough Trade and follows 2015’s Key Markets, the album that brought them a wider audience and critical acclaim. In spite of all the accolades and the call up to the indie label big leagues, the attention hasn’t changed them much. They are still taking the alienating minutiae of the modern day-to-day and converting it into something weird, brilliant and cheering as a friendly punch to the shoulder – even when the subject matter turns grim.
In the years since Key Markets, a lot has happened in the Mods’ native country. Brexit hovers over English Tapas like a gray shadow. Songs like “Jobseeker” established Williamson early on as one of the principal griots of austerity-era England, and he’s doubled down on that on now with songs like single “B.H.S.,” a wry sketch of the powerlessness of ordinary people in the face of the naked callousness of billionaires, like Philip Green, who is referenced in the song but not named. The song’s title refers to a British department store chain that collapsed last year, leaving 11,000 people without jobs and twice as many without their pensions. Green is about to lose his knighthood for his role in this economic clusterfuck.
If anything has changed for the band, it’s that they’re sounding more musical. The repetitive bass lines and faux-snare lock together into something more like a groove. Williamson sort of carries a tune on some songs and his voice even carries a hint of David Byrne-ish funk on “Messy Anywhere.” This could be considered their mature album, but the Mods don’t sound the least bit worn out. Less sweary, maybe, though no less profane. That they aren’t tired of carrying on like this is a good enough reason to listen. That Williamson can look at the chaos of late-stage capitalism as it is currently unfolding in England and come up with anything as pissed-off, funny and righteously harsh as “B.H.S.” is a great reason to listen.