Swiftly summarizing Jon Langford’s nearly 40 years worth of contributions to punk rock and all of its permutations, as well as his career-long obsession with American roots music, is liable to overwhelm anyone who hasn’t already been following his career.
So when it comes to discussing the solo project of the Chicago-based Welsh expat, let’s skip the history and instead focus on the primary constant – Langford’s barkeep approachability and an affable approach to political frustration and career disillusionment.
Relatively plain-spoken and folksy, Langford’s work outside his primary and more experimental outfit the Mekons goes down easy, thanks to his conversational tone and his band’s breezy versatility. Be it the haunting call-and-response vocals of Tawny Newsome on a reworking of Viv Albertin's “Don’t Believe,” in which the multi-dimensional melody sounds as if it's constructed out of metal latticework, or the last-call romanticism of Jean Cook's violin work on “Sugar On Your Tongue,” Langford’s backing crew the Skull Orchard is equally adept at reflecting or offering relatively restrained rowdiness.
Langford’s cynical humor is a fixture on “Here Be Monsters.” It’s there amid the chipper piano melody of “Lil’ Ray O’ Light,” in which the artist looks ahead to his obituary and is confident that whoever ends up writing it is a hack, and it appears on “Weightless,” a thoughtfully paced Western lament in which Langford preaches a life of moderation, at least if one defines moderation as keeping your ambitions low and your lifespan short.
More involving are Langford's character portraits – the basketball-loving cubicle soldier in “Drone Operator” who just wants a steady paycheck, or those who only put faith in paranoia in “If You Hear Rumours.” Even after all these years, Langford remains one of the more lovable curmudgeons around.
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard
“Here Be Monsters”
In De Goot Recordings
Three stars (Out of four)