Review: Machineyfied (NGland Records)

If Sleaford Mods didn’t exist, the music press would have to invent them. An obstreperous, vulgar and often hilarious reaction to the depressing state of modern British life and politics, the duo’s unique brand of post-punk rant-hop has been lighting a fire undercolumnists everywhere of late. From the darkest reaches of the blogosphere to the hallowed pages of The Guardian. By turns witty, scathing, aggressive and absurd, Jason Williamson is fast becoming the unofficial poet laureate of abandoned Britain – and he’s nothing less than superb on this double A-side from fledgling Nottingham label NGLand.

Trading Andrew Fearn’s scrappy bass loops for cheeky tech-house, courtesy of former Punish The Atom drummer (and one time Nirvana backing dancer!) Anthony “Antronhy” Hodgkinson, this limited edition CDR and download sees Williamson on typically dyspeptic form.

Like an embedded journalist reporting from the ninth circle of hell, Williamson tells of“skinny legs on street corners controlled by little Bobby Horners.” Of desolate graveyards and “lives separated by a traffic light.” Of life on the poverty line, all “low heating on a timer” and “shit domestic violence.” This isn’t some middle class safari into the urban jungle. This is lived experience transformed into tortured topography, a bleak situationist portrait of the vexed relationship between psyche and place.

But it’s a far cry from misery tourism. Williamson is far too funny for that, at one point breaking away from all the dystopian imagery just to moan about getting Farley’s rusks stuck to his arse. Such juxtapositions aren’t born of posturing. This is chatting-to-your-mates-down-the-pub stuff. Direct. Conversational. Disjointed. Raw. As funny or as profound as we are all capable of being when riffing freely in the moment. But what of the music?

Track one, Piss Business, sounds like a lost Underworld cut from the mid-nineties, with Williamson’s scatter-shot state-of-the-nation address harnessed to a cyclical, four-to-the-floor dance beat. “There ain’t a lotta point in trying to tell the world what you got,” he sneers, quick to put some distance between himself and a million other complacent, braggadocious MCs: “It’s a dead crop / It’s a sales shop.”

While familiar targets come in for a drubbing here – hipsters with handle bar ‘tasches for instance – track two sees Williamson at perhaps his most cryptic, plying his elliptical imagery over a beat that fizzes away like an edgy cocaine come-up. “The beautiful tree outside the window plays host to three different types of animals / The squirrels, the wood pigeons and the raven,” he intones obliquely.

Equally intriguing is the decision to name said track after former boxer Alan Minter, whose brief spell as Undisputed World Middle Weight Champion ended under a hail of beer cans amidst a veritable race riot… In 1980.

What is meant by this, we can’t be certain. Anachronistic references abound in the Mods’ cannon – but they are usually less opaque. Pot shots at “yesterday’s heroes” sit cheek by jowl with allusions to Tiswas and Spit The Dog as Williamson simultaneously recycles and undermines this septic isle’s dog-eared cultural heritage. While seeming at times oddly dated, these references nevertheless root the music in an analogous sense of time and place. Namely, Thatcher’s Britain.
Williamson doesn’t offer manifestos or sophomoric political theory. He simply shares an honest personal response to a distressing political situation. If a Conservative government is bad news for the disenfranchised poor, it would at least seem to spell good news for the arts. Machineyfied can be picked up for £2 from their bandcamp page. As a fan, I recommend that you do just that.

Lobe Trotter

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