Why Should It Take Longer To Record An Album Than It Does To Listen To It?

Posted: September 7, 2016 in Music nobody listens to, Shovels

With that offhand comment by Jon Langford, the Mekons had a mission statement, and proceeded to act it out.  Because of course they did.

At this point, they not only are perfectly willing to completely throw any conceptions about music, songwriting, and performance away, they have earned the right to do so.  If you have hung out here for any amount of time, you may have absorbed some of their background; art-school punks who not only COULDN’T play their instruments (actually, Gang of Four’s instruments, but that’s neither here nor there) but they REFUSED to.  And they’ve been unceremoniously dropped by more record labels than you have parents.  But they still keep on; and as was said in Joe Angio’s stellar doc “Revenge Of The Mekons” it may be argued, with little disagreement, that here and now, nearly 40 years on, they are making the most vital and important music of their career….

It has been a really good time to be a Mekons fan.  Langford has been as prolific as ever, solo and with the Wacos.  The Mekons released a wonderful collaboration with the amazing Robbie Fulks (Jura), recorded in a remote Scottish island.  There was a tour that came to Mineral Point Wisconsin, which brought me back from the dead. The afore-mentioned documentary, which had great reviews and had TWO showings (with band members for Q&A!) at the MKE Film Festival (yes, I went to both!)

I have said several times, and I expect I will again; that I deeply regret not being able to attend this event, held at a small art place in Brooklyn; Jalopy (BBBB was SINGULARLY unhelpful in getting me a ticket NOT THAT I AM ANGRY).  75 Mekon fans and the band with a single mic input recording all-new music and the audience was the on-hand Feral Choir.  I mean, I am as feral as anyone!

And, being the Mekons, they also did a book and full-length video.  Because, again, why not and they have earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want.

The video is by Barry Mills, who has worked with them on several projects.  I saw his work when Langford and Timms brought The Executioner’s Last Songs to Alverno Theater.  This is, essentially a full album rock video; last done by REM for their second album.

The book is filled with prose and poetry, lyrics and art and free-association diatribes.  It will be best read while drunk.  Or maybe sober.  Or maybe while stoned.  Out loud?  On the beach at midnight, maybe. In any case, like the music that is not easy-listening, this is hardly easy-reading. As a friend, Boocock, says, this will take much reading and listening to digest.

The music is some of the best I’ve heard from them.  it is simple and straightforward, and the Feral Choir is a great addition (although maybe lacking for zombies).  I hear some echoes from the electro album, Me, in some of the drum-n-bass lines and some of the guitar work.

It is deceptively simple, but the references are thick and fast, not only to their own prior work, but the whole recorded history of music. There are even parts that sound like their first two albums.

In the book, one writer used the phrase “shambolic precision” and that is a perfect distillation of the Mekons.  You watch them play, listen to them, and you don’t know whether they know what they are doing or whether they are just getting lucky. It always seems to be just this side of going off the rails, and that is what makes it so engaging when it turns into anthemic rage or a lovely dirge.

I know that this will do little for most of you, but here is a part of the video, for a song called “Fear and Beer (hymn for Brexit)”  featuring normal violin playing Suzie Honeyperson on piano:

 

To me, this album has really built on and taken the best from their last four or five albums (which were mostly really good, with one stellar).  It is deceptively simple, but keeps surprising you.  It has a wide variety, but the enforced order of the recording process keeps a common thread.  It may be noted that the contributions of Steve Goulding and Lu Edmonds may help to keep it on the rails more often than not. But  It also sounds like they were having a helluva time, playing in front of a bunch of friends and fans.  And let me tell you, watching the Mekons play when they are having a good time is a special thing indeed.

It’s worth mentioning that the first time I saw the Mekons, they were on their first major label tour, and they were having a blast.  The next time, I brought Wife Sublime, and they had just been dropped by the label, in the middle of America.  They were decidedly NOT having a great time.  We left.

It is very odd, when I think about it; why this band has come to mean so much to me.  You may also be perplexed and you are allowed to be.   They are, yes inconsistent. Although they came out of the first flush of British punk, they moved on from that long ago.  Although they pioneered the ‘alt-country’ genre, they do not play the American version of it like Wilco or Old 97s (both of whom I love).  They WILL play a song you hate just to get a reaction.

However, they are perfectly happy to drink with you before and after a show, and they have absolutely no pretensions of being ‘rockstars’.  They are musicians and artists who respect that you have paid money for their work, and they kind of love you for that.

But I think the basic reason I love their work so much is that they are unwilling to repeat themselves; they have no interest in doing similar things, over and over but rather want to explore, to find the things that interest them and where that takes them. This extends to all of their creative artistic endeavors, art writing whatever.  They are not content to sit still.  If you look at the difference between “Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Curse Of The Mekons” ; although the band thought they were delivering what the record label wanted, it was different enough that the second record was never released and the band was dropped mid-tour (see above).

They have said that they only get together when they feel like there’s a reason; memorably, they had an introspective, acoustic album called Natural that happened when a mutual friend died, and they were all in one location for the funeral proceedings.

Everything they have ever published has been credited to “Mekons”, even though there have been like 300 Mekons and Jon Langford has said “the only way out of the band is in a box” and since a couple have died, that is not so funny…

I ramble, on I ramble, like Brian Jones I ramble, and I don’t know where I am going or where I should be going.  I have tried to grapple with my affection for these art-school dropout weirdos, and am not sure I have gotten any closer.  But I will say that after three listens and the video, that I think this album is one of my favorites.

The Mekons started in the late 70s.  I saw them first in the mid-80s.  The album “Rock ‘n’ Roll” catapulted to my favorite list and yes, i put it on top of London Calling.  And since then, as weird and off-kilter they have been (or maybe because of it?) they have remained there. To me, they never disappoint, and I think that is mainly because they never bother do work that disappoints themselves…

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