Cruel Nature Records – 2nd December 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Having raved about Pound Land’s second album, Can’t Be Arsed back in March, I was pretty thrilled to find the follow-up landing so swiftly. What with the exponential rise of Benefits, and acts like Polevaulter emerging, it seems that now is a good time for angsty, angry music with noisy tendencies and gritty sociopolitical leanings. Of course it is: it’s a sign of the times, and besides, it’s not a good time for anything else, unless you happen to be a non-dom billionaire or a CEO at an oil company.

If Sleaford Mods set a new template for the paired-back duo setup as being in vogue before the pandemic, the combination of lockdowns and crippling economic circumstance has rendered this an operational necessity for many musicians.

Pound Land may be up to their elbows in grimy dishwater and wading through excrement in streets where the drains and sewers are backed up due to torrential downpours and a lack of council funding, but they share little common ground with Sleaford Mods, and that’s despite favouring repetitive monotonous Krautrock-inspired grooves over dynamic structures: Pound Land are far doomier, dingier, lugging their way closer to sludge metal than anything you could possibly dance to.

The Stockport duo’s third album is a monster slab of punishing, gut-dragging, bass-heavy grimness, and one has to wonder how much to read into the title. The people are weary, ground down: will they rise up, or curl up and give up?

The blurb points out that the album finds the Stockport band pushing their ‘post-industrial kitchen-sink drama preoccupations even further on Defeated, exploring the dark comedy of everyday life in the dismal land of eternal recession. Sometimes the vision expands out of shitty Britain too, ‘Drone’ recounting the wearied observations of an electronic device as it traverses the globe… You’ve got to laugh, because if you don’t you’ll kill yourself. Or somebody else.’

The laughter is pretty dark and pretty hollow, though, and derives as much from the keen observations as any particular knack for a punchline (a line about mobility scooters with Northern soul stickers on stands out as particularly pithy) and the stark musical backing isn’t especially musical, more of a pounding trudge that provides a backdrop to an endless stream of vitriol and bleak depictions of the everyday, from pavements caked with dogshit and news items about rising fuel prices and their effect in the average household. If it sounds mundane, it is, but then we need art that speaks to us about life as we experience it, and the majority know far more about scrabbling for change to buy a loaf of bread than luxury cars, watches, and clothes.

‘Violence’ is their equivalent of Public Image Ltd’s ‘Theme’, a brutal, sprawling, brawling, squalling monster that opens the album with a relentlessly heavy battering ram of a racket, like Sunn O))) with a howling harmonica and sneering Lydonesque vocal. It crushes your skull, before it fades out swiftly and unexpectedly, which somehow works. But maintaining the PiL comparison, it’s Metal Box that is perhaps the closest similarity, in that the album as a whole is diverse, fractured, unpredictable.

‘Carry On Screaming’ sounds like The Fall in a three-way collision with Yard Act and Melvins. It’s a mangled mess of drum machine beats and psychedelia and noise with a monotone vocal drawl.

Against a thumping dirge of a noise, a grating mesh of distortion and dolorous drum, the title track is a gnarly hybrid of early Swans, and elsewhere, as on ‘Sick Day’, it becomes less about songs and more about spoken word narrative delivered against a backdrop of mangled noise, and at times, it’s pretty harrowing. Lyrically, Pound Land don’t pretty things up. Sonically, they don’t either. It’s magnificently raw and un-produced, and this is no more true than on penultimate song ‘Pathogen’, a dirty slow stomp that’s pure rage and invites comparisons to Uniform. And it sounds like it was recorded on a phone from the next room.

‘Drone’ sneers and snarls like Lydon at his best, closing with a venomous refrain of ‘fucking twat’ delivered in a thick, spitting Manchester accent.

Defeated may only contain eight songs, and only a couple of them extend beyond the five-minute mark, but it’s feels immense, and experience that’s exhausting both physically and mentally. Listening, you feel the weight of the world condense and compress as the angst and anguish press down ever darker, ever denser. It’s a bleak, suffocating document of everything that’s wrong right now. This is the sound of broken Britain, and it’s a harrowing insight into just how fucked everything is. But in this channelling of nihilistic anguish, you realise you’re not alone. It doesn’t change anything, but it’s something to cling to.

AA

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