Austerity Dogs is the 6th album by Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods, but it’s the one that got them noticed. Since its release in 2013, the band have gone from strength to strength, being a necessary mouthpiece and cathartic outlet for many in the these austere times. They mix a punk snarl with pepped-up hip-hop beats and socially aware lyrics to make an original, energetic, angry and often witty statement that has become essential.
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In 13+ years of my bouncing off the thick, slimy walls of Fort Norman there's not been an album that's split the office, hatchet-like, into two quite like this grimy fucker of a platter.
I mailed Phil the week it hit - "Yo, Mix Master P, Wassup? No-one check Sleaford Mods?" Fellow remote staffer Ant-Zen had asked approximately the same. Apparently, members of the in-house posse for the day had been so appalled by the opening tracks of 'Austerity Dogs' that it was refused point blank back onto our wheel of steel. At any cost. So the story goes....
"So why is it your Album Of The Year?", you scream? Because some of us are obstinate, stubborn and true to what we believe, regardless of whether it may be palatable to the masses (or even to the talented, active musicians that earn a small crust here in t'Towers). It's only one of more than 50 great albums released this year, but it's arguably the most genuinely "punk", "urban" and "street" UK recording out of the whole bunch. 'Austerity Dogs' is the most furious blast of noxious whiteboy thug rap, hilarious social commentary and sparse, brittle DIY electro-punk you'll hear in 2013, and possibly until this Midlands duo see fit to write a proper follow-up.
They're the kind of band that could easily have a cameo spot in a Shane Meadows film, say down a seedy backstreet Working Men's Club. Jason Williamson's earthy, aggressive street-poetry fits the rumbling bass, skittering drum machine and skeletal samples/rhythms like a glove. I strongly believe there's something downright thrilling about this music. It jumps out of the speakers and squares right up to your face, an eyebrow cocked, an acute feral intelligence in tow. It's more confrontational than most UK hip-hop I have ever heard, and hell-cleverer than the singer's guttural regional snarl may suggest to some.
I'd like to pick a stand-out song, a particular cheeky lyric that makes me laugh like a drain. But that'd spoil it. There are too many. Don't even just check the soundclips out, they'll not do this justice. Please buy the wax if you can. 'Austerity Dogs' is an unhinged, greasy blast of realism gobbing at a dying world staffed by utter tools.
If you dig the cynical, parochial, outsider attitude of acts as diverse as MC Pitman, The Fall, John Cooper Clark, Half Man Half Biscuit, et al then you'll recognise the unapologetic, uncompromising mettle present here. Like the aforementioned acts, Sleaford Mods have got a fabulous grasp of the mechanics of penning a raw, manic pop tune. Yes: this is somehow an incredibly catchy album under the grit and spit. The lyrics are often unpleasant, but in the same strike come over as blatantly ironic, observational prose. This isn't sour provocation. It's downright toxic genius!
Sleaford Mods are what happens when you hail from Thatcher's hometown. The angriest band in the country just mugged you. So why are you smiling?
Months ago, back when I first started seeing this album on this site, I had it judged by its cover, title and band name. "Brilliant," I thought, "more wannabe 'Mod' twats selling that line about how important it is in working class culture to wear a sharp coat." Fully expecting it to contain the latest forgettable rehash of crappy Mod nostalgia, with some lazy political observations thrown in, I got mildly annoyed...until I read the press release, and got interested.
Sometimes press releases don't lie. This is, by far, the most interesting album I've heard in years. In an age where everything seems to have been done before, where so many bands seem happy to tread over old ground, and where as a listener it sometimes feels a bit like you're grateful to just find a band that at least treads over that old ground with new shoes, 'Austerity Dogs' is a kick aimed squarely and with extreme firmness up your musical arse.
There's no escaping its sheer, withering, relentless roughness, evidence of which soon mounts up. The word 'cunt' is used within the first ten seconds of the record, in an aggro spoken-word opening that sends an immediate signal of what's to come. A sparse bass line is joined by a cheap-sounding drum machine, introducing the brutalist instrumentation that the record never departs from. The dirty, homophonic pun of the track title ("Urine Mate") is quickly revealed, before the lyrics turn to even darker fare: pimps beating up women outside the bookies ("What have I ever done to you?!"), fronting up to the BMX-riding estate kids ("Smash yer face, cunt, back into next week"), the possibility of catching chlamydia from using the "only phone on the road". Mike Skinner, this is not.
So, it took all of ten seconds to obliterate my 'Mod' misgivings. If anything, this is more like punk. I also think it's fair to say that this is a highly lyrics-driven album, and that if you don't get those lyrics - and many people really won't give a shit about the subject matter here, which is kinda the point the Sleaford Mods are making - you will struggle to find anything to like. Similarly, if you need to hear singing, or guitars, or pretty much anything that resembles 'normal' music then forget it. If you're looking for a few reference points, then imagine a stripped-down cross between John Cooper Clarke (minus the literary), Mark E Smith (minus the stream-of-consciousness), the street-punk likes of Cock Sparrer and Oi! (minus any racism), and maybe a touch here and there of Wu-Tang (minus, well, anything American whatsoever).
In other words, it's highly aggressive, highly intelligent, and utterly of its time and place. I'm sorry to bang on about the lyrics, but they are the main draw here (and that's not to dismiss the backdrop provided by Andrew Fearn's minimalist electronics which are the perfect accompaniment and similarly thrilling). Whilst I genuinely hope I never have to defend this line to the man's face there's been a vacancy for that 'voice of the proles' role ever since Shaun Ryder's muse upped sticks, and Williamson does make me wonder what Ryder (another lyrical genius) might have come out with if he'd been faced by David Cameron's sly continuation of Thatcher's vision rather than the E-drenched culture of the late 80s / early 90s.
Williamson also has plenty to say about the state of the current music scene, specifically, it seems, all the poser-based London shite and various forms of rock nonsense that we can't seem to escape on this island. Something else that puts Sleaford Mods on that side of punk. All in all, I find myself in full agreement with Ant (fellow Norman Records type):
"I can't think of a band that's emerged in recent years with more to say than them. They just totally nail it. They've got more punk attitude than any punk rock band I've heard in many years."
Indeed, so pitch-perfect are Sleaford Mods in their vitriolic take-down of austerity Britain that part of me worries that's it all just some satirical prank, and that when 'Austerity Dogs' hits the end-of-year best-of lists (as it will) Williamson and Fearn will be found "laughing their tits off" with Mumford and Sons whilst blowing coke up each other's bumholes or something.
Anyway, Ocado are here with my shopping now so I've got to go. (This is true.)
9/10 Alan Schmalan Customer review, 14th February 2016Punk died in '79!
Sleaford Mods, inadvertantly re-animated Punk in 2007.
Thanks Jason, Thanks Andy...
Some of us have been waiting nearly 40 years for Punk to evolve.
And you have managed it, thank you. I'm supposed to write another 250 words before my review will be accepted, WHY? What do you want me to say, you cunts? Sleaford Mods are untouchable, what I mean is there is no fucking, any fucking body, who comes any fucking where near to them. If you don't like them, then fuck off and buy a Mumford & Sons CD, YEW KUNT!
10/10 Kevin McGovern Customer review, 26th May 2015
Fu*$ing A, this album is brilliant! It should be on the school curriculum, and then maybe all those young kids that watch all that pish on TV (X-Factor) etc might then realise that there is real music out there and not just ear rotting, soul destroying drivel that they are force fed, beg steal of borrow this album and get listening! These guys are even better live and put on a great show. Beware though! If you are easily offended, then fuck off as you shouldn't be listening to great stuff like this!!
9/10 Jamie Lumley Customer review, 1st December 2014
This is my first outing with Sleaford Mods. I saw them live supporting the Specials in Glasgow and I got the whole Public Enemy meets 'Shameless' thing straight off, but it was the visceral poetry that got me to order 'Austerity Dogs'.
Strong street ballads, delivered with a sharp edge and a sneer, but clever with it. Well -observed disdain in 'Mcflurry', and uncomfortable points made in 'The Wage Don't Fit. Hard not to like the whole album as it is a stinging wake up and listen slap, that makes a change from pseudo tough nut bands. Genuine, strong, no-nonsense stuff from Nottingham.
10/10 Spokes Customer review, 28th October 2014
The perfect antidote to waking up with sludge tongued Stella ache and Russell Bland bleating revolution from every orifice. This will make said orifices bleed and hurt, like wiping them with folded grease proof paper and not being able to flush. This sounds like the nightmare of the real, boring, relentless revolution that Thatcher instigated and Cameron sweats awake to. It sounds like a selfish unforgiving call to arms scratched on the wall of an underpass and smells like the piss puddles therein. It makes me want to do something. It makes me happy.
9/10 John Customer review, 31st August 2014
Have been absolutely hammering both albums. Listened to ‘Austerity Dogs’ more so far. Both great. Everything just clicks – Andrew’s spare backing and Jason’s astonishing torrent of soiled humanity. Very direct. Unapologetic English rap. Echoes of great bands, but only in the sense of chewing up and absorbing. They are a great band.
8/10 James Customer review, 14th May 2014
Fan-fucking-tastic album - BUT where's me fucking download code!! Every new record includes a download code these days but not this one!! What happened?
10/10 Kat Customer review, 3rd April 2014
Caught this lot at the recent gig in Leeds and it reminded me that I've been meaning to post a review here for a while. I'll cut to the chase. Sleaford Mods are the best band in the UK at the moment. End of discussion. Are you in a band? Do you actually have anything to say? No? Then get out of the way for a bit, there's a good little band. Go be all retro somewhere else.
9/10 Jan Jorgensen Customer review, 1st April 2014
I first heard the song "Donkey" around New Year when the album was made "Album of the year" at Norman Records and thought is was crap. But then I gave it one more listen on the web, and one more and one more and then I did by the LP and never looked back since. Great album, to me it is John Cooper Clarke meets Suicide - great lyrics (even though I do not get all the words), the music is as minimal as can be - so now I am just hoping for them to come to Denmark so we will get a chance to buy them some local danish beer and have a great time.... ps: When you can sing "Brian Eno, what the fuck does he know?" - you really must be on to something...
10/10 Danin Customer review, 17th March 2014
Does it matter that this 'album' is actually more like a patchwork quilt of various tunes the Mods have released down the years? Nah. Face it, like the rest of the UK you're late to the party. Most likely because you've been listening to something even more rehashed. This is probably punk's last gasp before the UK music scene and its chancy small town think-they-ares finally disappear up their collective bumhole.
8/10 Paul Jobson Customer review, 17th March 2014
Sleaford Mods’ “Austerity Dogs” is not a record for the faint hearted. It is a high octane and unrelenting blitzkrieg, railing against all things banal and vacuous in today’s world. No-one escapes – bosses, pop stars, wannabe hard men in the pub, pimps, drug dealers…they all get the same treatment. At face value, an expletive laden barrage of bile spat out with anger and frustration. Closer listening (to Jason Williamson’s lyrics), reveals wit and humour in abundance mixed with clever word play - a harsh realistic ‘tails’ to Shaun Ryder’s hedonistic ‘heads’. Combined with Andrew Fearn’s sparse and rhythmic basslines / beats, it forms a raw and exciting hypnotic cocktail. It is a fitting soundtrack to the brutal and spiteful times in which we live…
8/10 Bloody Nora Customer review, 14th March 2014
Sleaford Mods tell it like it is, and use f-bombs like confetti (I do like a good swear). My only disappointment is that they are not from Sleaford.
10/10 Lawrence Burton Customer review, 6th March 2014
To be honest, Austerity Dogs is so good as to make all efforts to write about it completely pointless - simple, powerful music and brilliant words, and I just can't stop listening to the f******. As with the cold leftovers of last night's kebab hastily consumed on the way to work in the hope of staving off a hangover, it may not be pretty but it's undeniably nourishing. Longer version on my blog.
10/10 Spen Customer review, 25th February 2014
I found these on the net browsing for new sounds. I am big fan of John Cooper Clarke so found the narrative rant appealing and very engaging. They're like an updated version of his stuff using current language in a very street wise naturalistic way - which isn't everyone's cup of tea, but is very honest. High use of swearing and good use of humour, some of the tracks can be found on Wank - the previous album, but are in a more refined format here, and much improved for it for the most part - though I can't help but miss the demo urgency of their predecessors.
10/10 Dean Reynolds Customer review, 22nd February 2014
Austerity Dogs. Basic beats, bass and keys splattered with some of the most articulate rage fulled observations on British life as lived by a great many people as you are likely to hear anywhere, if at all. Expletives fly. If they stick it's probably personal.
9/10 Citizen kane Customer review, 24th January 2014
"Austerity Dogs" is one of the freshest and most interesting albums of the last five years. Sleaford Mods are kinda doing to rap what Kill the Vultures did a few years ago, but in a less cerebral way. They are aggressive but don't seem to take themselves too seriously, so all the tunes end up sounding extremly catchy, in a weird way. I don't know, for me, it was love at first hearing.
9/10 matt_g_b Customer review, 30th December 2013
The only record I've ever owned that contains the line 'You smell'. Brilliant.
9/10 Chris Customer review, 26th November 2013
Sleaford Mods! Sleaford fucking Mods! Can't believe someone has finally given this band and this fine record the accolades its due. Well played by Norman Records. Hands down the gutsiest choice I've seen in any list so far this year.
10/10 Craggy Customer review, 25th November 2013
Thank you Norman Records for making this your Album of the Year 2013. Proof that their is still life in UK punk! Sleaford Mods are producing the only music that is relevant today. It is that simple. Steal this record if you have to.
10/10 Mik Customer review, 22nd June 2013
I thought this would be some Weller style Jamie Oliver friendly bullshit. Couldn't be more wrong. The whole mod thing is a complete blind alley. This is early, speed fucked Mark E Smith spitting invective in unashamedly chav language. And by that I don't mean chav like middle class shitwits mean it, as a snobby insult. This is the language that you hear when you don't have a job and spend time amongst other lads who don't have jobs. The language of the cheap skunk smoking classes.
No doubt they'll get fucking nowhere because music like this never does. It's just shouting right? It's not real music, right? It's not "tight". The songs aren't 10 minutes long and full of proper musicians playing proper instruments like Dire fucking Straits did. We, the public school mafia, have decided against this! This is just just some chavvy uneducated type with a chip on his shoulder and unfortunate access to a microphone!
I think the other reviewer nailed it to be frank. If you don't get this then you're part of the fat Tory problem with this country. If you can't see why Sleaford mods are justified in their anger and that expressing this anger really isn't going to fit in with any of the current musical trends then just don't bother?
10/10 Bile Council Customer review, 12th April 2013
Sleaford Mods don't sound like anything else. Sleaford Mods are the realest band out there right now. Sleaford Mods ARE right now. And if you think "Mod" is just about dressing up like "page 7 Weller" and boring on about Small Faces all day and night on yer reissue 60s Vespa, then don't bother mate. If you don't "get" Sleaford Mods you are one of them, "the enemy". Seriously the best music/act to come out of this spoilt, over-saturated musical farmyard we call the UK since the Pistols. Yep, that's right.
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