Ancient & Modern (Sin Records)
The Mekons aren’t my favorite band because I believe they’ve made the best music ever. But I can’t think of a cooler band. Their aesthetic is anarchistic, collective, egalitarian, witty, and whip-smart. In more than 30 years, they’ve made some incredible music, touching on punk, honky-tonk, electronica, dance, folk, and rock, largely in obscurity and poverty. Their catalog is uneven, with some forgettable work. Their latest album, Ancient & Modern—the band’s 22nd, by my count—finds the Mekons at a musical high point, both mournful and defiant.
The title track serves as a centerpiece for the album. The song begins with Jon Langford, one of the band’s two mainstays, singing about having “a minor breakdown” and feeling like “Satan on judgment day.” Before it ends, just about every Mekon has weighed in on a song that is surreal, sad, and hopeful. The song is an attempt to find a place in history for themselves—and by “them” I mean their ilk, not the band. The attempt is futile, as they find themselves obsessed with “atrocity that never goes away” and going to war “against a sea” only to look back and see sorrow.
This doesn’t end well, they know. And yet, the song somehow still manages hope, as it turns into a drinking hymn for rebels: “The light will be darkened and they shall come with speed/Ancient and modern tomorrow.” Those lines can be read in all sorts of ways, and I’m sure I’ll puzzle over them for a while. But for now, I’m comforted to have my old friends back, cheering me on.