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Jon Langford Questions War, Puff Pieces on Delightful ‘Here Be Monsters’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 01, 2014
Label: De Goot Recordings

Welsh-born Chicagoan Jon Langford boasts a unique creative energy, unless you can name another individual who helped pioneer cowpunk (Fear And Whiskey) while contributing artwork to craft breweries (Dogfish Head). But while The Mekons remain Langford’s triumph, his enthusiasms spill over into worthy side-projects, from the Waco Brothers to children’s music ensemble Wee Hairy Beasties.

Langford once self-effacingly referred to his Skull Orchard project as a dumping ground for material deemed “too Welsh,” but Here Be Monsters sounds like a fleshed-out band, graced with Mekons-derived musical trademarks, from melancholy fiddle/guitar (“Mars”) to Creedence boogie (“Gone Without A Trace”). And long-time fans might note familiar thematic concerns as Langford explores the periphery of culture and a topsy-turvy world of antiquated knowledge (“Here Be Monsters” is an archaic cartographic legend as vague as Mekons classic “Slightly South of the Border”).

Several tunes capture Langford at his colloquial best, as when sarcastically asking munitions designers “What’s the point of a toy/ If you don’t get to play?” on “What Did You Do In The War?” He explores drone warfare’s ethical quandary on “Drone Operator,” which skips along to a guitar riff repurposed from Miles Davis’s “All Blues” as the barstool-seated title character launches clumsy pickup lines, coughs up excuses (“I’m not really a soldier,” “It didn’t look like a wedding”), and finally follows the object of his attentions home. Best of all is “Lil’ Ray O’ Light,” in which Langford celebrates and sings of himself over a 1966 Bob Dylan groove. “All the puff pieces and picks of the week/ Never got it right,” he grins wickedly, retaining a sense of modesty while rightfully swelling with pride. Langford knows how it goes on the periphery: “Aim too high/ And live in obscurity.”