Sleaford Mods

Divide and Exit

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It took Sleaford Mods nearly eight years to make their breakthrough album, but what a breakthrough: Divide and Exit doesn't just build on the momentum Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn began with 2013's Austerity Dogs, it kicks down the door and announces Sleaford Mods as one of the most truly punk outfits of the 2010s. Fearn and Williamson take aim at the stupidity in music, politics, and culture like they're lancing a festering boil, and while the results aren't pretty, they're pretty cathartic. What would be rough edges or even mistakes in other bands' work make up the heart of their music; they're so insistent on getting their message across that there's no time for second takes. As on Austerity Dogs, Divide and Exit's sound is stark and blunt: Fearn's clattering beats borrow from industrial and hip-hop, while the gurgling basslines on "Air Conditioning" and "Strike Force" sound like they're part garbage disposal. These grimy backdrops are set ablaze by Williamson's rapid-fire wit, which shows no signs of fading after nearly a decade. If anything, he's become an even more masterful conduit of anger, channeling it through highly quotable lyrics full of crude outbursts and scathing eloquence, often at the same time. Toilet imagery abounds on Divide and Exit: Williamson expresses his disgust for a clueless liberal frenemy (and himself) by wanking in the loo on "You're Brave" and begins "Tied Up in Nottz" with pungent opening line "The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon." After venting their spleens on the album's first half, Sleaford Mods take a brainier, arguably more potent approach on the rest of Divide and Exit. With its ghostly backing vocals, "Tweet Tweet Tweet" conjures images of Fearn and Williamson surrounded, Shaun of the Dead-style, by complacent, social media-fixated zombies, while "Smithy"'s helicopter samples put a finer point on the album's claustrophobic paranoia. "Liveable Shit" borders on performance art in the way Williamson, his doubled vocals falling somewhere between hype man and nagging conscience, connects the dots between Jim Morrison, Gary Oldman's Dracula, and everyday injustices while shouting down canned laughter. While parts of Divide and Exit are extremely English, for every reference that flies over the heads of listeners outside of Blighty, many more connect. "Tiswas" takes its name from a British children's television show from the '70s and '80s, but Williamson and Fearn's frustration is palpable -- and universal. Though they delivered more nuance on their other 2014 releases (particularly the Tiswas EP), Divide and Exit is the brilliant gut-punch that began a momentous year for Sleaford Mods.

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