Exile on Mall Street
by Terri Sutton
Headlining her own tour this spring, Mekons chanteuse Sally Timms wore a delightfully beige, brazenly polyester, wide-weave twopiece pantsuit. On the off chance it wasn't noticed, Timms introduced the outfit and demonstrated its most attractive feature: a happy stretchability that allowed for (depending on what show you saw) tour fat or menstrual bloat. And then she slid into song, and I laughed, because she had meant every word twice. Her voice was the pantsuit.

It always has been the pantsuit, I would say! even before she and that particular ensemble met: difficult to sweat in, slightly greasy, and so flexibly imperturbable that there's something almost horrible about it. A voice like a Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie, or a kitchen appliance ad from the 1950s. In the Mekons, Timms beams a cool moon back at Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford's voluptuously excitable suns: she follows wandering cultural ghosts, sips at the smooth Pepto Bismol of political amnesia, and details everyday murders (of spirit) with the poised gestures of a model at a car show I remember the one time that ease faltered the way people remember Walter Cronkite cracking: "Garage D Or," a splintered narrative of abuse on Timms's first Mekons

A voice that's difficult to sweat in: Timms record, The Edge of the World, in which her voice flinches under a blow before it falls and so learns to walk the darkness prepared.

With that exception, Mekons' songs tend to present Timms from the side, as a slightly sinister Mary Poppins hovering above the carnage: her show-tune voice set against lyrics or noise, the subject somewhere in between. Stepping into the spotlight, Timms makes that technique—dislocation—her subject. To the Land of Milk and Honey (Feel Good All Over), Timms's second solo release and first domestically, is an expatriate's journal, an account of alluring rootlessness. bemused estrangement, uneasy accommodation. It feels like shopping at the Mall of America.

Although Timms wrote less than half these songs (four with producer and fellow Mekon Langford), the writing is nearly seamless. The first track, the Langford-Timms-composed "Round Up," finds a sinuous midAtlantic groove, Portishead bass beating deep below a thick Western guitar; "I didn't need/l didn't need to get involved," Timms measures out, "this climate/has weakened my resolve." In John Cale's mundane-intomysterious "Half Past France," a fugitive rides a sleeping train until she is ß dead to her past and floating, all at sea. A jaunty, melancholic "Junk Barge," by Chicago bassist and studio owner Dave Trumfio, and the bleary repetitions of Will Oldham's "No More Rides" dump Timms out on the waves yet again.

To the Land of Milk and Honey closes with two Langford-Timms numbers as acerbic and friendly as any Mekons track you might fancy; songs about frontiers, as usual, only in this case specifically American and so largely to do with a grand fantasy of eternal expansion. For these British exiles, there's no hanging out above the Atlantic anymore; they're here. Except that "here" is only a "longing, madness & lust" to be elsewhere, somewhere safe and artificial: ' exclusive membership bunker club," spaceship, shopping mall. Given Timms's slippery voice and her themes of discomfort, you can hear these Soz1gs straining toward such a dead certainty. Given those same things, you can hear the songs double back on themselves. She sings the chorus again, because she means it twice: "Longing & madness & lust/in these three things/do we trust." And she gathers her in-country expatriates L to her, the longing and lusting Oldhams and Cales and Trumfios, and makes a home in their self-styled homelessness.

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