ALBUM REVIEW: Working Men’s Club – Self-Titled
By Jacob Thompson
Yorkshire post-punk techno rockers Working Men’s Club released their first LP on Heavenly Recordings. Produced by Ross Orton (The Fall, M.I.A., Arctic Monkeys), this self-titled debut is a rallying cry against the boredom of mill-town life in the Northwest of England, and manages to find a surprising amount of variety in its synth-drum soundscapes without ever losing the sense of identity that marks its Todmorden origins.
This is in no small part thanks to 18-year-old frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant. Working Men’s Club formed in 2019, and Minsky-Sargeant is the last of the original cohort left. He is joined by Liam Ogburn on bass, Rob Graham on guitar and synth, and Mairead O’Connor on guitar, keyboards, and vocals. Together, they provide a punchy, bass-driven sound, though Minsky-Sargeant’s vocals are the grumbling undercurrent that fuels most of the tracks here.
Opening track Valleys flexes these muscles immediately, drawing out an industrial sound with a heavy vocal thrum that lends the opening of the album a brooding industrial quality. Everything here is defined by the West Yorkshire landscape; valleys, hills, and empty mills, red-brick warehouses and the rusting pipes within. There’s an ever-present sense of frustration in Minsky-Sargeant’s lyrics, a yearning for something more than the decrepit mill-towns, swept up in hopeless optimism and inevitable pessimism.
White Rooms and People and Outside are two tracks that really hit the paradoxical nature of this desperation, opening up the grungy bass of the gloomy Valleys and acidic A.A.A.A to sky-high funk riffs and mellow lyricism. The positive spaces these tracks sweep through are all tinged with a melancholic edge, a mellow comedown after the trance-like poetics of John Cooper Clarke, itself full of echoes of The Durutti Column and New Order, Graham and O’Connor working wonders with their loops and reverb.
Working Men’s Club work best when they’re letting their own identity flourish beyond their influences, and the album is tightly produced, always holding back just enough as not to be overbearing. But it’s when this strong identity is ignored that the album suffers; tracks like A.A.A.A and Be My Guest suffer somewhat for a lack of focus, whilst mercifully short Cook a Coffee is so on-the-nose punk that it feels more like a child of imitation than inspiration.
Despite these missteps the album ends on a high, Tomorrow’s Gordon Gano-esque nihilism building up to the sinister and energetic Teeth, a pacy hi-hat racer leading to a frenetic climax that could easily serve as the album’s final track. Instead, we get Angel, a twelve-minute bumper that somehow justifies its place. This is a gig song recorded with a crowd in mind, and when Minsky-Sargeant’s lyrics disappear beneath Ogburn’s bass we are flung into a thrashing finale, at once a rebellion against and celebration of tiny venues in tiny towns everywhere, a mosh-pit in a local boozer, flung pints and trampled feet and all.
Working Men’s Club make a strong impression with this debut, and together with Orton they have produced a powerful statement piece. Though at times their sound veers close to feeling like an echo of what has come before, the oft-forgotten youth of England’s Northwest will no doubt find much to love here, and perhaps even some hope for the future of their scene.
@JacobBaggins is a Manchester-based music journalist and former Fuse FM radio writer.
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