The Mekons’ artier ambitions have long curbed their mainstream appeal, but credit the band for never phoning it in.
April 23, 2019 | by Ryan Bray
“Get out of the van and disappear,” The Mekons sing in “Lawrence of California,” the first song on the Welch art punks’ latest outing, Deserted. Granted, The Mekons have always been wanderers, musically speaking at least. But the band’s latest puts a very literal spin on the idea of getting out of one’s comfort zone.
Specifically, the writing and recording of Deserted led the band to Joshua Tree, California, less a place than a haven of retreat for those looking to step a bit outside of themselves. According to frontman Jon Langford, failed attempts at writing songs in the van while on tour led the band to break away for some solitude.
“The desert is not unlike the ocean (just drier) and equally inspirational to old pirate punk rockers,” Langford noted in a statement accompanying the new record. And Deserted, from nods to the epic story of T.E. Lawrence to countless references to the arid elements of its surroundings (“Into the Sun,” “How Many Stars,” “In the Desert,” “Mirage”), is certainly inspired. That’s hardly surprising coming from a band that’s always reached out beyond punk rock’s sometimes-limiting confines. But locale undeniably plays a role in keeping The Mekons’ sound fresh more than 20 records deep into their career.
Deserted, like many Mekons records before it, is so sonically shape-shifting that it leaves no room for boredom. “Lawrence of California” nails the folk-meets-punk formula that’s long made the band so musically peerless. It’s a strong opener, but while The Mekons come on like a gang of marauders, the best moments on Deserted lie in the subtleties. The echoes that hang off of every note on “How Many Stars” put listeners right in the middle of the desert’s endless expanse. And just in case you think the record is all wistful wonder, the record also captures the desert’s weird underbelly through cryptic alt country ( “Weimar Vending Machine”), dub (“Into the Sun”), or trippy art rock numbers left to bake in the heat (“Mirage”). The desert’s a vast place, and The Mekons’ warped hodgepodge of styles and genres does an admirable job of capturing its sprawl.
The Mekons’ artier ambitions have long curbed their mainstream appeal, but credit the band for never phoning it in. Deserted is another high-concept kick in the ass from one of independent music’s most unique and relentlessly creative acts. The band might have had to uproot themselves to get things done, but the results are expectedly solid.
Purchase Deserted at Bloodshot Records