Working Men’s Club are no strangers to a release beneath the shadows of lockdown. Their widely acclaimed, frenetic self-titled debut, released in October 2020, provided a sonic escape from the anxiety that loomed at the time. The burgeoning Yorkshire group now return with their expansive, cinematic sophomore effort ‘Fear Fear’.
Penning a handful of earlier album demos, and sharing with Heavenly on the very day the debut was released, prolific frontman Syd Minsky-Sergeant maintained working relationship with producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, The Fall, MIA), commencing work on the new material from autumn 2020, on-and-off in week long chunks for the best part of a year.
By this token, themes surrounding lockdown and pandemic-induced angst were perhaps destined to factor into the album’s conception, the creative process for Minsky-Sergeant a means to escape Todmordon at a time of entrapment. But while ‘Fear Fear’ deals in part with the darker confines of our present, at its core is a gloriously synthesised catharsis which documents an introspective, world-building personal journey, and comes out dancing on the other side.
The album kick starts with a long suspending dread. ’19’ is introduced gradually, meticulously, carving a path through off-kilter techno and acid house, the sum of its parts modulating around a warped instability, while its opening phrase prompts an eerily grounding evocation “A timid dirty whisper / a flicker in the eye / she beckons as he shivers / he lunges as he cries…”
After this foreboding introduction, we proceed with the title track ‘Fear Fear’, which undulates and energises through a menacing, industrial sonic palette, supported by a robust dance core. The album across the board toys with this juxtaposition of fearful uneasiness and dance-fueled defiance, true of tracks like ‘Circumference’ which employs a listless lyrical pessimism, but carries a musical optimism akin to the 80s electro pop of Gary Numan or earlier The Human League. The anthemic ‘Widow’ features a similarly nostalgic palette alongside darker overtones and satisfyingly catchy hooks.
What perhaps best ties the record together is Minsky-Sergeant’s ability to seamlessly cross-pollinate a plethora of stylistic influences, whilst maintaining a contemporary vitality that feels exciting and fresh. From the oscillating, dial-up Kraftwerk sensibilities of ‘Rapture’, to the overblown fuzz and modal arpeggiators in ‘Ploys’ (Muzak’s evil cousin), and to the beautifully bookending ‘The Last One’, a vibrant, drifting Krautrock finale and psychedelic summation of the album’s parts, ‘Fear Fear’ reaches for sonic opulence and succeeds.
With this release, Working Men’s Club have taken their meticulous attention to detail and vibrant eclecticism to immense heights. The album tells its own superbly structured story, bathing in synthesis and heavily grounded in the contexts of lockdown, while allowing these very contexts to steer the process beyond angst and towards a utopian catharsis.
Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown