After touring on the back of their twisted non-retrospective "Punk Rock" in 2004, The Mekons picked up their instruments and lost themselves far beyond the beaten path in the wilds of the English countryside. Removed from the restraints of conventional studio technology, they navigate an undulating sonic landscape of lavish melodies, mantric chants, and shimmering acoustic experimentation. This is their first new material in five years since 2002's critically acclaimed "OOOH!" Look for them on tour this fall.
Thirty years is a long time to be involved with any profession, much less the notoriously soul-draining music business. But the ability of the Mekons to continue doing it without becoming jaded or redundant lies in their embrace of variety and their slippery punk/rock/country/whatever approach. For this, their 26th record, main Mekons Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh have concocted a mostly acoustic, folksy contemplation of modern life that nevertheless sounds ancient. The songs are like sea chanteys, messy and simple but haunted, as if the melodies had their origins in some long-dead Druid society. But the lyrics are something else, referencing everything from terrorism ("Burning in the Desert, Burning") and the computer age ("Ones and Zeroes"), to the perils of aging (the wonderful "Dickie Chalkie and Nobby"). Elsewhere, "White Stone Door" uses percussive instrumentation to liven up Sally Timms's dark, wistful vibrato, while "Cockermouth" features the uneasy line "you have to believe this is the end." It's pretty dour stuff on the whole, but delivered with playfully melodic wit and a certain poetic resignation usually found only in the hearts of forgotten souls and madmen (and maybe Tom Waits). We ignore such sad wisdom at our peril. --Matthew Cooke