Mary Huey compiled some notes on 'Natural'. Maybe you can relate them to the songs.
- "Dark Dark Dark"
Midrash Rabba, Bereshit 10:6 (Talmudic commentary on Genesis)
"Every single blade of grass has a corresponding 'mazal' in the sky which
hits it and tells it to grow."
Tree of Life (Darwin):
Tree of Life (Genesis):
- "Old Fox"
"The Judgment: Before completion, success... one must move warily, like an
old fox walking over ice. The caution of a fox walking over ice is
proverbial in China. His ears are constantly alert to the cracking of the
ice, as he carefully and circumspectly searches out the safest spots. A
young fox who as yet has not acquired this caution goes ahead boldly, and
it may happen that he falls in and gets his tail wet when he is almost
across the water. Then of course his effort has been all in vain.
Accordingly, in times 'before completion,' deliberation and caution are
the prerequisites of success."
- "White Stone Door"
Yeats, _The Celtic Twilight_, "Kidnappers"
"A little north of the town of Sligo, on the southern side of Ben
Bulben, some hundreds of feet above the plain, is a small white
square in the limestone... It is the door of faery-land..
hardly a valley or mountainside where folk cannot tell you of some
one pillaged from amongst them. Two or three miles from the Heart Lake
lives an old woman who was stolen away in her youth. After seven
years she was brought home again for some reason or other, but she had
no toes left. She had danced them off. Many near the white stone
door in Ben Bulben have been stolen away."
- "Shocking Curse Bird"
Baudelaire, "Les Phares" (The Beacons), _Les fleurs du mal_
[see the CD liner notes for a snippet of this poem en francais]
Goya, _Los Caprichos_ (1-80)
- _The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters_ (#43)
- _All Will Fall_ (#19)
- _There They Go Plucked_ (#20)
- _There Is Plenty to Suck_ (#45)
- "Give Me Wine or Money"
Frazer, _The Golden Bough_
"...the corn-spirit often appears in the form of a goat... [N]ear
Marktl, in Upper Bavaria, the sheaves are called Straw-goats or
simply Goats. They are laid in a great heap on the open field and
threshed by two rows of men standing opposite each other, who, as they
ply their flails, sing a song in which they say that they see the
Straw-goat amongst the corn-stalks. The last Goat, that is, the last
sheaf, is adorned with a wreath of violets and other flowers and with
cakes strung together... In Franche Comte, as soon as the
threshing is over, the young people set up a straw figure of a goat on
the farmyard of a neighbour who is still threshing. He must give
them wine or money in return. At Ellwangen, in Wurtemburg, the effigy of
a goat is made out of the last bundle of corn at threshing;
four sticks form its legs, and two its horns."
- "Burning in the Desert Burning"
Female suicide bombers:
As you'll remember, Edward G. Robinson played Dathan in _The Ten
* Disclaimer: Remember that these notes are only words, and not meanings:
One day when [Naropa] was sitting and reading his texts, a shadow suddenly
fell on the book. He turned and saw an extremely old and ugly woman. She
asked him, "What are you studying? What are you reading?" He replied, "I
am studying Guhya-samaja tantra." She asked, "Can you read the words?"
"Yes," he answered and started to recite the text.
On hearing that she became so happy that she jumped around and started to
dance. Naropa thought: "She became so happy when I told her I can read, I
will also tell her I can understand it." He said: "I also understand the
She then became very sad and started to cry. Naropa said, "You were so
happy that I can read, but now you are so sad because I said I understand
the meaning. Why?" She answered, "I'm sad because a great scholar like you
- "The Hope and the Anchor"
The Sea-Man's Vade Mecum
The Mariner's Jewel
According to the above 18th century nautical glossaries:
- "A Road is any Place near the Land, where Ships may ride at Anchor;
and a Ship riding here is called a Roader"
- "To Grave the Ship is to bring her to lie aground, to burn off her old
What do Wordsworth and Fletcher Christian have in common?
- "Zeroes and Ones"
Emerson, _Nature_, Chapter VII
"We are as much strangers in nature, as we are aliens from God."
An instrumental downloadable EP (Brackenrigg EP) will be relased on September 25 on Rhapsody.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the Mekons would get around to an album of bucolic themes. Thirty years on this post-punk band from Leeds, England — some of the members live in America now — is still poetically shambly-bumbly. The Mekons are almost classicists now, reflexively favoring what’s old and textured. And they’re skilled at it, finding easy sweet spots of ragged harmony when they put their voices together.
“Natural,” recorded in the English countryside, sounds like the band’s familiar, idealized dust-bowl Americana sound, with a little reggae, a little marimba and thumb piano, and strong overtones of Thomas Hardy. This was a good idea: For a British band that’s fundamentally anti-commercial, it’s productive to dive into brambles and think about ancient ritual.
Not surprisingly the lyrics are the intriguing part of “Natural.” the Mekons are shrewd and opaque with words and ideas, while they’re generous and shaggy with music. These words keep driving at the blackness of nature, the lack of meaning it offers humankind.
“Broken branches hidden far down below/ the trees stare back, and we burn in smoke,” Tom Greenhalgh sings in “Dark Dark Dark.” Other songs evoke barefoot dances, stone doors, rain, goats, straw and even gorse, the shrub-plant that grows on heaths. “Zeroes and Ones” — the title echoes a book on cyberfeminism by the British philosopher Sadie Plant — breaks down life into binary terms, in a thumping three-beat rhythm: “lost and found, found and lost/never lost, never found, never found, never lost/the tick tock of the giant clock/tide goes in, tide goes out.” And the music feels like waves, sloshing back and forth. BEN RATLIFF
The Mekons' first album of new material since 2002's anthemic anti-war screed "OOOH!" feels a lot more like 2000's underrated "Journey to the End of Night." There, they sounded utterly defeated, sold out by the British leftism they'd lived and breathed since their DIY beginnings. "OOOH!" bucked up in the face of an actual global conflict, and '04's "Punk Rock" found them covering their own punk roots, but now they're back to sounding as if they're ready for the end times.
"Natural" finds them holed up in the middle of nowhere, plucking (mostly) acoustic instruments and wondering when the bombing will start. This is Mekons music as detailed, sometimes plodding campfire songs, acoustic guitar, violin and hand-held percussion, a sound that's ready for an extended absence of electricity. So they take perverse pleasure in nature ("Shocking Curse Bird") and realize there are only a few ways to deal with the inevitable ("Give Me Wine or Money"). Once they went to heaven and back. Now they find themselves in a handbasket, sure of where it's going. — J.G.
from: Chicago Sun Times
To celebrate its 30th anniversary -- the now largely Chicago-based Mekons formed in Leeds way back in 1977 -- and to produce its first album of new material since 2002 (not counting the re-recording of some of early classics for "Punk Rock" in 2004), the band's ever-prolific founders, Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh, sequestered themselves with their current compatriots in the English countryside, "drank whiskey all night, listened to the rocks and the Stones and tuned into strange old frequencies," to quote their new bio, and recorded "Natural" as a sort of twisted back-porch hootenanny, drawing on American roots music, Celtic folk, country, rock and all of the other diverse sounds that long have been part of the band's unique mix.
The result is one of the most inviting and accessible albums the band has ever produced. With standout tracks such as the aptly named "Dark Dark Dark," "Give Me Wine or Money" and the Sally Timms showcase "The Hope and the Anchor," "Natural" is certain to please fans of earlier, mostly acoustic gems -- 1988's "So Good It Hurts" comes to mind -- as well as standing on its own as a great introduction for someone who's delayed diving into the Mekons' lengthy catalog because the band just has too many recordings (not to mention splinter groups) to its credit.
From: Chicago Magazine
Natural, out in August, marks the Mekons' first new project in five years. Begun in 2004 in a farmhouse in rural England and finished two years later in Sussex, down the road from A. A. Milne's home, the collection of acoustic country-folk reveries and chants suggests a postapocalyptic campfire sing-along. Chicago spoke to singer-guitarist Jon Langford and singer Sally Timms, who call Chicago home.
What sent you overseas?
Langford: John Gill, who was a member of the band for a very long time, died, and we wanted to play a memorial for him in Manchester where he lived. We got a gig a bit after that in Edinburgh. So we rented a farmhouse in between and took loads of instruments just to reacquaint ourselves. Most of the record was done at night after being out on long walks to various pubs and stone circles, Wordsworth's grave.
Langford: The English countryside is littered with ancient monuments, so we wanted to actually go and sit and write a song in a stone circle, because they were places where people met, and try to have a transcendent moment.
The Mekons are known for their societal insights. What are some ideas you explore in song?
Timms: Some of it is about nature being benign, but a lot of it is about people not being able to get through. [Singer-guitarist Tom Greenlaugh] was very interested in that idea of communities and societies breaking down. What would you do if there suddenly is no electricity and no water supply.
What sound did you set out to create?
Timms: There wasn't a great plan except we'd mostly be using acoustic instruments because we'd be in this rural location.
Langford: It was very stripped down, people sitting in a living room picking up instruments they didn't know how to play. I played a lot of harmonica very enthusiastically, usually after 11 o'clock at night.
A couple of years ago, Wired magazine tapped Jeff Tweedy to curate a night of their "Next Fest", the idea being that the Wilco frontman would select some innovative act as the future of music. Ever the pragmatist, Tweedy picked Joanna Newsom, not for aesthetic reasons but practical ones: in the future, he surmised, we'll all be living in a post-apocalyptic world without electricity, so he wisely selected a singer who can go without.
From the start, the Mekons have been making post-apocalyptic music, albeit of the wry and electric sort. But Natural, the latest in the group's long line of records, is, per Tweedy's dictum, truly post-apocalyptic folk, music for when the lights go out and hope burns only dimly. It's the Mekons unlikely "unplugged" bid.
Of course, like most unplugged sets, it's really nothing of the sort, and as folk it won't exactly have the purist set nodding in approval. In fact, Natural, is only folk in the sense that the Mekons were ever truly punk, at least in the standard parlance. Indeed, the semi-legendary Leeds group is about as punk as any act that would cheekily title a record Punk Rock. Which is to say, for most of their 30 years, the group has been just as closely associated with the communal aspects of folk as they have been with any other style of music, punk included. The Mekons shifted idioms to fit their shifting tastes, but they never abandoning the earnest ideals and outrage that fueled the band through decades of Margaret Thatcher, miner strikes and major label snafus.
So, folk, reggae, punk, whatever: Natural is first and foremost Mekons disc, of a thematic piece with 2000's mournful Journey to the End of the Night, and as such it's important to take note of what the band is saying as much as how they're saying it. "The twisted trees sing," go the opening lines of "Dark, Dark Dark". "The trees stare back/ And we burn in smoke/ Reflecting in the water like ghosts/ Drifting this way and that." This is Thoreau's nightmare, transcendentalism flipped on its side, the forces of nature recoiling at the sight of man's folly and fighting back, then sifting through the wreckage of civilization.
Or so we might surmise. Thoreau gets a shout out in "Cockermouth", and the rest of the album is filled with imagery both environmental and elemental, with an emphasis on blood and fire. "Cockermouth" introduces the not very bucolic observation of "jet fighters swooping loud and low" but the song may be a wasteland flashback driven by an echoing mantra of defeat: "You'd don't have to believe in the end/ You have to believe this is the end."
A few months back, speaking in his Chicago studio, Langford declared his love of classic UK folk, and revealed how much of Natural was written and composed in a room of a hired house. That might explain why so much of the album sounds like what might come of a band of survivors convening after the end of the world, setting their stories to music to be passed on to future generations. The instrumentation is largely spare, the lyrics showcasing little of the rage or sardonic humor for which the band is known. Rather, this is pretty relentlessly bleak stuff, and even the pagan poetry of "White Stone Door" is played straight: "Dance the toes right off your feet/ Making up the story as you go," sings Sally Timms. "The dancers are all dead we know/ Behind the white stone door."
The shuffling "Give Us Wine or Money" features an agrarian scenario played not as Communist utopia but as cutthroat reality where "on the earth where blood is spilt/ The few must feed the many." The incredible "Diamonds", with its trademark collective vocals, likens the potential to do right in the world to unpolished gems, but success is still tempered by death, with salmon lost at sea miraculously finding their way back to fresh water and "the inevitable slaughter." Even the more rollicking country blues of "Shocking Curse Bird" features the central metaphor nesting "in Goya's nightmare."
On 2002's rousing OOOH! the Mekons were pissed and fighting back. Here the battle is already lost, the band resigned and, all options exercised, waiting for what comes next. The power's out. The lights are off. Natural is the end of the world as cautionary campfire tale, the Mekons akin to T.S. Eliot's dejected hollow men (whose world ended "not with a bang but with a whimper"), waiting for the sun to rise and wishing the new day will reveal the path forward.
-Joshua Klein, August 24, 2007
For one thing, the band has never taken itself too seriously, but by the same token, they are deadly serious. For another, they have a supportive label in Chicago's Quarterstick, who host an album whenever the disparate and elastic Mekons can be in one place long enough to create something. Oh, and their questing musical minds, never under any pressure to produce or reproduce the expected. Not to mention the chief creative talents of the band, all busy with other projects and living thousands of miles apart. Keeps it fresh, one imagines.
This is all supposition, by the way. But last time we were talking Mekons, the band were celebrating 25 years and releasing the Oooh! album. Suddenly they're marking 30 years with a few gigs and releasing Natural. For this latest opus, the band convened in Wordsworth country, thinking about "ritual, paganism and sacrifice...both ancient and modern". Typically, though more than a little cheesed off with the powers that be, Mekons never sloganise and shout, preferring to use their lyrical talents to draw parallels between barbarism in all its forms, and to take refuge with the underdog. And so they endure.
Natural finds them, shorn of punk rock'n'roll leanings, and eschewing their proto alt-country, for a mostly acoustic setting that occasionally harks closer to 1983's much-cherished and typically out-of-step English Dancing Master. Mainstays Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Sally Timms are joined by a handful of Mekons past and present to conjure lusty singalongs and eerie violin-led atmospherics.
Opener Dark Dark Dark, sung by Tom in inimitably suave-but-sickly fashion, sets the scene, "The twisted trees sing...dark dark dark". Multi-layered drones of guitar, violin and accordion give way to the campfire exclamation of the group chorus.
Burning in the Desert Burning, far from arid, takes the form of a sea shanty; while Cockermouth, sung by Sally Timms (possessed of one of the most haunting singing voices in the English language, but somewhat under-used on this album), unexpectedly breaks down into a dancehall rhythm. Don't be fooled though - this ain't no carnival.
Where this album belongs in the Mekons canon, it's hard to say. It sure as hell isn't Leeds in 1977, and it doesn't sound like anywhere or anyone in 2007. It's a roots record alright, with a few crumbs of hope amidst the looming sense of armageddon. You can imagine the black clouds overhead and the icy winds cutting through its recording.
Twenty-odd years on, this could almost be the flipside of the band's classic Fear and Whiskey - still smiling through gritted teeth, hearts on sleeves, fired by love and fury and booze, but with an even murkier landscape as a backdrop. Nonetheless, it's unmistakeably, unrepeatably, at times unfathomably, but almost always unpredictably, Mekons.
- Jamie Sellers
It seems like every big album in the world came out on August 21…but don’t let the Mekons new one get lost in the shuffle. It’s pretty wonderful. Here’s a bit from my PopMatters review, which went up today:
It’s been five years since the Mekons’ last album of new material, the grand scale, countrified OOOH !. That would be a monumental pause, and maybe even a death knell, for most bands. But for a band as stubbornly persistent, as willfully still-here-despite-obstacles as the Mekons, it’s just a pause for breath. They have, after all, made 16 albums since their conception in 1977. Survivors of the first wave of UK post-punk, they are among the minority of similar, vintage bands who have not reunited lately…because they’ve never really been apart. Not that it’s always been easy. The Mekons have weathered every kind of label perfidy, and shrugged off every sort of trendy expectations. They’ve turned out eccentric oddities and acknowledged masterpieces with the same level of conviction. You get the sense that they have, pretty much, done exactly what they felt like for the last 30 years, damn the consequences, screw the economics.
In Natural’s case, that meant getting back to basics, gathering “in the wilds of the English countryside,” and by the sound of it, sticking to well-tried instruments, song structures, and lyrical material. There’s a rusty patina on songs like “The Old Fox,” its shivery harmonica curling like campfire smoke around slow-changing guitar chords. The lyrics have an almost Aesop’s fable quality to them, a sense of one thing standing in for another. The imagery of an old fox “eating from the bin” is, for instance, specific and memorable in itself, but also a metaphor for aging, obsolescence and the approach of death. The melody and structure could hardly be simpler; yet there’s a dreamlike, symbolic glow to it, especially when echoic voices rise from the background.
Comfortable as an old shoe... but scary somehow.
It’s been five years since the Mekons’ last album of new material, the grand scale, countrified OOOH!. That would be a monumental pause, and maybe even a death knell, for most bands. But for a band as stubbornly persistent, as willfully still-here-despite-obstacles as the Mekons, it’s just a pause for breath. They have, after all, made 16 albums since their conception in 1977. Survivors of the first wave of UK post-punk, they are among the minority of similar, vintage bands who have not reunited lately...because they’ve never really been apart. Not that it’s always been easy. The Mekons have weathered every kind of label perfidy, and shrugged off every sort of trendy expectations. They’ve turned out eccentric oddities and acknowledged masterpieces with the same level of conviction. You get the sense that they have, pretty much, done exactly what they felt like for the last 30 years, damn the consequences, screw the economics.
In Natural‘s case, that meant getting back to basics, gathering “in the wilds of the English countryside,” and by the sound of it, sticking to well-tried instruments, song structures, and lyrical material. There’s a rusty patina on songs like “The Old Fox,” its shivery harmonica curling like campfire smoke around slow-changing guitar chords. The lyrics have an almost Aesop’s fable quality to them, a sense of one thing standing in for another. The imagery of an old fox “eating from the bin” is, for instance, specific and memorable in itself, but also a metaphor for aging, obsolescence and the approach of death. The melody and structure could hardly be simpler; yet there’s a dreamlike, symbolic glow to it, especially when echoic voices rise from the background.
The music is traditional sounding, but not always traditional Anglo-American. The gorgeous “White Stone Door” starts with a malleted percussion right out of Africa and a surge of township harmonies. The world-ish cadence continues throughout, underlining Sally Timms’ trembling vocals and Susie Honeyman’s wonderfully dark swooning violins. It’s an odd juxtaposition, the Appalachian folk and the African beat, but it joins without visible seam in a melting walking reverie.
Not all the songs are as delicate as “White Stone Door,” though over all, this seems like a more restrained album than even OOOH!, and is obviously far less rock-oriented than the Mekons’ early material. There’s a rousing call-and-response stomp called “Shocking Cursebird” to liven up the mid-section of the album, and the dark, apocalyptic gospel “Burning in the Desert Burning” to add intensity near the end. The band even rock-steadies a little reggae with “Cockermouth,” the sweep of violin careening through heavy Kingston backbeat. Still, it’s the quiet ones that you have to watch. “Diamonds” starts out like a lullaby against a flutter of guitar and mandolin, gaining heft in the country blues guitar solo and rolling inevitably forward into a broad-shouldered folk chorus that you feel you’ve known all your life.
Many of these songs are about aging and mortality. The “White Stone Door” is pretty clearly found in a cemetery, and “Dark, Dark, Dark” wraps existential terror in dirge-like accordion. Yet the imagery is always grounded in concrete details. In fact, the mix of the uncanny and the ordinary, the combination of familiar pictures and dark overtones, finds its most effective expression in the closer, “Perfect Mirror.” “Now we sit and shiver / Watch the cold roll of the water / We wait for fire and in the night / The black mountain above the lake / The image is still...like a perfect mirror”. Life and death, realistic detail and mystic epiphany, homespun music and transcendence…each are two sides of the same coin. Even the weird stuff is, as it turns out, completely Natural.
From: Rolling Stone
Thirty years after they formed in Leeds, and fifteen or so after most of them relocated to America, the Mekons return to England for their quietest and weirdest album since 1982's The Mekons Story. Replete with chants, harmonicas, found percussion and an extra helping of haunted London holdout Tom Greenhalgh, Natural eschews the comforting competence of unplugged á la MTV. Instead it delivers the ramshackle, ritualistic, druids-at-Stonehenge mood that campfire crusties at U.K. festivals like Glastonbury aspire to. Convinced Armageddon is upon us, the Mekons are determined to get in some mournful Earth worship first, and for fans who feel the spirit, songs will emerge. Try the beyond-thematic "Dark Dark Dark," the Iraq-meets-Palm Springs "Burning in the Desert Burning" or the reggaefied "Cockermouth," in which Jon Langford's distracted "I ramble" sinks into Sally Timms' gentle "You have to believe this is the end." Maybe it's not the end. But it's a taste.
The Mekons are celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2007 as they release their 26th album, Natural, which to the uninitiated might sound as if the band were bowing to the ravages of time with its relaxed tempos, emphasis on acoustic instruments, and general reluctance to rock out in the traditional manner. However, this overlooks the fact that the Mekons have never had much truck with how things are "traditionally" done; the Mekons have rarely sounded as if they were following the same musical path on two consecutive albums, and while the aggressive stance of 2002's OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) andmore… 2004's Punk Rock has taken a back seat to a more measured and subtle approach, Natural certainly fits in with the group's great tradition of intelligent ranting. Most of Natural suggests the Mekons sitting around the campfire, perhaps after some failed revolutionary action has knocked out the power, singing songs that at once reflect their cynicism and offer some faint hope for a world where either justice or cheap beer is in ready supply. "You don't have to believe in the end," from "Cockermouth," is the benchmark of the album's semi-optimism; "Dark Dark Dark," "Dickie Chalkie and Nobby," and "Give Me Wine or Money" all offer sketches of resistance in a world that isn't much interested in their campaign; and the closer, "Perfect Mirror," calmly contemplates the final defeat. In the midst of all this, the Mekons do find space for one noisy rocker, the digital-age rant "Zeroes and Ones," while an undertow of electric noise adds to the menace of "Dark Dark Dark," suggesting once again that the Mekons don't put much stock in even their own self-imposed rules. Natural is a quiet but disconcerting snapshot of a world of chaos, which is to say it depicts a world not so different than the one that saw the birth of the Mekons in 1977, and confirms their message has remained constant even when their musical approach has not.
From AMG Reviews
The Mekons are celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2007 as they release their 26th album, Natural, which to the uninitiated might sound as if the band were bowing to the ravages of time with its relaxed tempos, emphasis on acoustic instruments, and general reluctance to rock out in the traditional manner. However, this overlooks the fact that the Mekons have never had much truck with how things are "traditionally" done; the Mekons have rarely sounded as if they were following the same musical path on two consecutive albums, and while the aggressive stance of 2002's OOOH (Out of Our Heads) and 2004's Punk Rock has taken a back seat to a more measured and subtle approach, Natural certainly fits in with the group's great tradition of intelligent ranting. Most of Natural suggests the Mekons sitting around the campfire, perhaps after some failed revolutionary action has knocked out the power, singing songs that at once reflect their cynicism and offer some faint hope for a world where either justice or cheap beer is in ready supply. "You don't have to believe in the end," from "Cockermouth," is the benchmark of the album's semioptimism; "Dark Dark Dark," "Dickie Chalkie and Nobby," and "Give Me Wine or Money" all offer sketches of resistance in a world that isn't much interested in their campaign; and the closer, "Perfect Mirror," calmly contemplates the final defeat. In the midst of all this, the Mekons do find space for one noisy rocker, the digitalage rant "Zeroes and Ones," while an undertow of electric noise adds to the menace of "Dark Dark Dark," suggesting once again that the Mekons don't put much stock in even their own selfimposed rules. Natural is a quiet but disconcerting snapshot of a world of chaos, which is to say it depicts a world not so different than the one that saw the birth of the Mekons in 1977, and confirms their message has remained constant even when their musical approach has not.
- Mark Deming, All Music Guide
By Stephen Slaybaugh
If there’s anything definitive that can be said about the Mekons, a group of artists who formed a punk rock band in Leeds in the late ‘70s and has since morphed into more of a collective spread over North America and Britain, it is that they aren’t complacent. Over the course of their three decades together, they have continually challenged themselves and subsequently their audience. Along the way, they’ve dabbled in many genres and created plenty of landmark music, including 1985’s “Fear and Whiskey,” considered by many to be the prototype of alt-country.
While it’s been five years since the band’s last recording of new material, the rambunctiously clanking “OOOH!”, the band released “Punk Rock,” a collection of re-workings of songs from the band’s early days. Having cleaned the slate in a manner, “Natural,” the Mekons’ new album set for release on August 21, probably could have gone in any direction without anyone lifting an eyebrow. As it is, the group returns to its first love, a spirited take on Americana.
Living up to its title, “Natural” finds the band plying its trade in a largely acoustic setting. Still, cuts like “Dark Dark Dark” and “The Old Fox” are inhabited by a sense of unease, a sort of darkness for which the band has always shown an affinity. Similarly, “Cockermouth” is a reggae-tinted ditty that repeatedly comes back to Sally Timms sweetly intoning “That this is the end.” Elsewhere the band kicks up the dust with the hootenanny of “Shocking Curse Bird” and creates a backdraft of country dissonance on “Zeroes and Ones.” Through it all, the band exhibits the creative spark, as well the piss and vinegar, that has informed — and will most likely continue to inform — their stubborn immutability.
For thirty years now, the Mekons have re-invented punk and indie rock as well as themselves from their home base of Leeds. The release of Natural shows that they are continuing the trend.
With Natural, the collective outfit sought to harness a more ancient and organic sound. So off to the woods they went, where they sat about and “drank whiskey all night, listened to the rocks and the Stones [sic], and tuned into strange frequencies”. Hippie bullshit or not, it works because the Mekons have turned out a great album with a decidedly hippie feel to it that isn’t far from the work of Devendra Banhart.
Despite opting to change directions at times, this is a band that ultimately knows what it is, which translates in its music as confidence but maintains the vulnerability needed to make the listener care. Perhaps the band was influenced by the resurgence of collective hippie music that has given rise over the last few years to acts like Banhart, but even so, Natural seems just that — a natural progression for these musicians which has resulted in one of its finest works to date.
I spend my life moving back and forth between one of the pounding hearts of global capital and one of its many soul-strewn killing grounds. I listen to the Mekons for help turning defeat into a way forward, for companionship in a struggle in which there is no reasonable hope of success. That's a very personal reason for following a band, but I don't think it's a private one and I suspect it's not unique. It definitely creates very high and very specific expectations, ones the band is under no obligation to meet but which are my reasons for trading my labor for their songs. This Mekons album has a bit to offer my needs, but less than usual.
The first half is very weak, salvaged only by the opening track. Four songs in I was already composing a Christgau-style pan in my head: "After thirty years of turning defeat into a lost highway, the Mekons' road dead-ends in a dark bracken. Here's hoping they find a hidden path back to the asphalt." For a few days I was ready to write this one off entirely. Perhaps they're not interested in struggling against the dark after all, I thought. Or maybe I'm just not far enough gone myself to need this kind of extreme unction. Worst album since ME, if not Honky Tonkin'.
It does get better, both as you go on in the track sequence and with repeated play. But not better enough. Too many songs are spoiled or nearly so by an affectation that feels like wallowing rather than flailing. "Dark Dark Dark" comes close to Robyn Hitchcock territory; "The Old Fox" gets there. A particularly haunting and beautiful fiddle line by Honeyman on "The Hope and the Anchor" is undermined by a vocal performance from Timms that could be self-parody. Death, decay and unintelligibility may be natural, but so's life and the will to create meaning, and only the five-song stretch from "Give Me Wine or Money" to "Cockermouth" near the end generates enough energy to sustain either.
These are bleak, bleak days. Many of us would agree with the Mekons that the apocalypse seems to be peaking around every corner. But what we need is the will to defy it. Most of us can turn defeat into despair well enough on our own. So I'm still hoping they find the highway again.
a grower, August 24, 2007
By D. Brown
got this early and it's really grown on me. it is downbeat, which may explain earlier review, but with some very pretty, ambient moments. the songs reveal themselves with repeated listening, especially old fox, perfect mirror and burning. it feels like a companion piece to mccarthy's the road; slow, strange and understated. it needs time to sink in and then it takes hold.
By Sam Clemens
Following the two best things (OOOH! and Punk Rock), the Mekons have done since Curse, Natural is a disappointment. As always, the band deserves credit for taking chances and following muses, but this time the results are unspectacular. The music drags on too many songs, and there's an omminous amount of repetition. And why bother with another reggae-lite number (Cockermouth)? They already did that with Tina, back on Journey. Natural does offer one great Mekons song (Zeroes and Ones), which only serves to make the rest of the CD seem slight by comparison. Seveal other songs (Diamonds, Give Us Wine or Money) are decent, but overall Natural lacks the zest of the band's best work. Perhaps this sounds good if you're drunk and/or stoned and sleeping out in the English countryside, but at home in the afternoon on my stereo it just translated as blah. I hope they don't end on this one.
Creating a 'Natural' sound
September 26, 2007
By ROBERT LOERZEL Contributor
The Mekons, a rock band whose members live in Chicago, England, New
York and San Francisco, came together for a sad occasion in 2004.
Their producer and occasional member John Gill had died of cancer.
Gathering for a memorial concert in England, the Mekons rented a
house in a remote corner of the Lake District, where they strummed
guitars, pumped accordions, plucked away at a thumb piano and blew
into harmonicas. They also drank whisky in an ancient stone circle.
Three years later, the recordings from that sabbatical have emerged
as the backbone of the latest Mekons album, "Natural." The band,
which originally formed as art-punk band in 1977 in Leeds, England,
comes Friday, Sept. 28, to the Old Town School of Folk Music for two
"It was quite an interesting time. Just to be together and experience
something together was quite nice," says Jon Langford, a resident of
Sauganash, who plays guitar and sings with the Mekons.
Sitting down for an interview together with fellow Mekon Sally Timms,
a North Side resident, Langford recalls that the band worked at a
very relaxed pace during its rural sabbatical.
"A lot of it was done very late at night," he says. "We'd get up in
the morning and have some breakfast and then we'd decide to do
Timms interjects, "We'd go to the off-license.
"Instead, we'd go into town and we'd land in this pub," Langford says.
"Then we'd bring back loads of whisky," Timms says.
"And we'd get some food and we'd cook some food, and then we'd go out
to the pub in the evening," Langford says. "And by about 11 o'clock
at night, we would start. Pretty much like that. It was fun. There
wasn't pressure because we didn't think we were trying to do
One member of the Mekons, multi-instrumentali
taking it seriously enough to record it all with Pro-Tools. And then,
as the rest of the Mekons scattered back to their hometowns, Edmonds
spent a couple of years tinkering around with the mostly instrumental
"The album's called 'Natural,' but it's actually very produced, and
it's not natural in any way," Langford says. "He just tweaked it and
fiddled with it and moved things around."
The Mekons considered putting out a double CD of the recordings, with
one disc of instrumentals and one disc of vocal songs.
"Our record label told us not to be ridiculous," Langford says.
"Our record label told us sod off, and they were once again probably
correct," Timms adds.
Returning to England in 2006, the band wrote lyrics, recorded vocals
and mixed the album. The theme of man's relationship to nature
emerged in many of the words to the almost pastoral-sounding songs.
Timms and Langford say the band was thinking about ideas such as: Is
it possible to become lost in today's world? Can you really discover
yourself by retreating into nature? Were aboriginal people really
more at peace with the world?
Answering that last question, Langford says, "It's just more
complicated than that."
"It is more complicated,
peace with nature. It's always trying to attack you."
The always-busy Langford has several other projects in the works,
including a duo record with Katrin Bornfeld, drummer for the Dutch
punk band The Ex; an art exhibit in New York; and a play he's
collaborating on with music critic Mark Guarino. Langford and Timms
will both be on a new children's album by the Wee Hairy Beasties.
Timms, who works by day as a paralegal at an Evanston law firm,
shrugs off a question about whether she's working on another solo
"Slowly, maybe," she says. Langford gives her a look, and she adds,
"What? What is my project? There isn't one."
Timms says she enjoys working within the family of musicians known as
the Mekons, getting together occasionally with these friends and
pursuing whatever musical ideas strike their fancy.
"The only way you can make anything last," she says, "is just
following your own ideas of what you want it to be."
by Alfred Soto
Despair is the Mekons' muse. When a band devotes most of its career to cataloguing economic privation and apocalyptic visions, it risks cynicism and indifference. But details have never been the Mekons' strength anyway. This blowsy collective from Leeds had the true punk spirit: their guitars sounded like dogs in blenders, their vocals off-key, off-pitch, and oft-putting. "Production values" was a term they read about in Variety or something. Which is why it's a surprise that ever since the release of 1989's The Mekons Rock `N' Roll they've been on a pretty good, pretty professional roll. Whether those albums signify at a level beyond the politics they share with their claque is a question only you can answer.
So first things first: Natural is their prettiest album; in spots it's almost pastoral. Guitars don't so much caterwaul as purr with menace. Aural space is filled by marimbas. Vocalists Tom Greenhalgh, Jon Langford, and Sally Timms sound great, even though Langford's patented dry heaves aren't as articulate as the ones he stretched to tuneful effect on the superior 2004 solo album All the Fame of Lofty Deeds; is he aiming for a Bob Dylan effect? If so, his bandmates’ songs emulate the spirit of Modern Times: they've recorded lush genre exercises, hazy on the details, with a gooey center. That's what happens when resignation atrophies into acquiescence (at least Dylan sees genre exercises as windows rather than walls). This was not the case with 2002's OOOH!—the closest these comrades came to marrying the boozy communalism of, say, the Pogues' Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash with Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia. Although neither John Ashcroft nor Dick Cheney were ever mentioned, a more terrifying, terrified response to the events following 9-11 wasn't released that year (in comparison Bruce Springsteen's The Rising is that artist's Natural).
Opener "Dark Dark Dark" is exactly the kind of song you expect the Mekons to write; you can write the lyrics yourself in a Mekons mail order contest. It's also Natural's most striking tune, as didactic a statement as The Edge of the World's "Hello Cruel World." A pity they weren't inspired to lecture us some more—this album could use "Dark Dark Dark"'s rhetorical force. Otherwise Natural flaunts the Mekons' newfound craft, to mixed success. Sally Timms does her raspy-sibyl routine on the lovely "Diamonds," and "Give Me Wine Or Money" is, like the inept reggae of "Cockermouth," a charming reminder of the band's disshelved past, and thus quite welcome. The rest of Natural confines its bitching to homespun pleasures. No doubt it's the easiest thing in the world for Greenhalgh and Langford to pass a jug of cider around the table and write a vaporous rant that's as muscular as their voices and intelligences will allow, but committed liberals like these guys have nothing to prove to each other—not when there's a body politic out there that needs engaging.