March LGBTQ music: Sleaford Mods and 100 gecs

The electronic punk duo Sleaford Mods are up to their 12th album.
The electronic punk duo Sleaford Mods are up to their 12th album.
Ewen Spencer

This month, we take a listen to the latest albums by two duos: Sleaford Mods (consisting of singer Jason Williamson and gay keyboardist/producer Andrew Fearn) and 100 gecs (featuring trans singer/producer Laura Les and Dylan Brady).

Sleaford Mods | “UK Grim” | Rough Trade

It’s surprising to realize that the electronic punk duo Sleaford Mods are up to their 12th album. If anything, the current state of Britain has left them angrier than ever. Since their whole body of work consists of  James Williamson’s heavily accented rants over Fearn’s proudly cheap synthesizer and drum machine, can their bile still land when Williamson and Fearn are in their 50s and their albums regularly hit the UK’s top 10? Their sound has grown slightly more polished and more varied since the band’s early years, but the variations are pretty small.

Several songs combine live instrumentation, especially bass guitar, with racing programmed beats. Some of the weakest songs on “UK Grim,” like “Tilldipper” and “Pit 2 Pit,” come closest to late ‘70s punk. Fortunately, the band plays in several tempos, with their slower songs offering greater rewards. Fearn is still finding ways to turn the limits of his keyboards to his advantage. “On The Ground” and “Apart From You” use melodies that stretch the potential of their thin sonics. The latter features one of the tinniest piano presets I’ve ever heard.

Williamson’s vocals lie in an extremely English no-man’s-land between spoken word, singing, and rapping. He’s an inheritor of Ian Dury and the Fall’s Mark E. Smith; Dry Cleaning singer Florence Shaw turns up on “Force 10 From Navarone” to offer her own brand of spoken dissociation. His voice has always run the risk of turning into a caricature of a drunk guy bellowing on a street corner. He remains profane and shouty, but he’s a more poetic and self-critical lyricist than the band’s sound lets on. Still, he risks getting petty and self-righteous. Williamson’s dis of the current wave of UK rock bands on “D.I. Why” is the opinion of a cranky man yelling at clouds, and “So Trendy” (featuring surprise guest Perry Farrell, the singer of Jane’s Addiction) isn’t much better. When he sticks to politics, he comes off much better: “Right Wing Beast” take aims at a friend’s growing conservatism. “Force 10 From Navarone” describes England as a “country that still believes it’s not dead…but it is…f**kin’ dead.” Unless the state of the country greatly improves, he will never run out of material.  Even if “UK Grim” doesn’t always play to the band’s strengths, its rage is bracing.

100 gecs |“10,000 gecs” | Atlantic

100 gecs, who comprise Dylan Brady and trans singer/producer Laura Les, have reached an unlikely level of popularity for an album as abrasive as their debut, “1,000 gecs.” “Money Machine” felt like a novelty song, but an uncommonly expressive one. It reflected a chronically online brain, making odd jokes and insular references and skipping through genre and genre (especially uncool ones like brostep, screamo, and third wave ska) in search of something matching their frazzled mind. While they followed the buzz to a deal with Atlantic Records, they released a remix album and little else. Four years after “1,000 gecs,” we’re finally getting their second studio album.

“1,000 gecs” mingled love and irony with an appealing wit. Now, 100 gecs are in a much tenser position: labelmates and collaborators with some of their influences. As a trans woman, Les took on genres she was excluded from at their peak, but now they can actually work with Skrillex and Fall Out Boy, their outsider’s perspective has lessened. Similarly, their embrace of genres dismissed by music critics felt transgressive, but “10,000 gecs” proves how hard it is to make pop-punk palatable.

100 gecs have always embraced their silliness, sounding more amused than anyone else by themselves. While you can theorize about their lyrics, “Frog on the Floor” is about exactly what it sounds like: “Frog on the floor, where’d he come from?/Nobody knows where he’ll go.” But now, they’re performing straightforward versions of the styles they’ve mixed and matched. “Hollywood Baby” and “Billy Loves Jaime” are terrible pop-punk and nü metal songs, respectively. They could have composed for in-store play at Hot Topic in 2006. Admittedly, they’re performing scuzzy versions of emo and ska. While the production is slick and trebly, the guitars drip fuzz. On “Billy Loves Jaime,” they threaten to disintegrate into pure noise. With Public Enemy-inspired saxophone squeals, “The Most Wanted Boy in the World” summons up memories of clunky ‘90s synthesis of indie rock and hip-hop.

Rather than innovating, 100 gecs are adding slight novel touches, like Autotuned vocals, to emo and metal. Even the sampledelic “one million dollars,” where Les and Brady’s voices are replaced by noise, turntables scratching and spoken soundbites, could be an interlude on an early Slipknot album. It’s hard to escape the sense that signing to a major label and then waiting so long to release a second album killed 100 gecs’ momentum. They now just sound like an ordinary rock band too deeply steeped in 2000s nostalgia.