Album Review: Here Be Monsters by Jon Langford & Skull Orchard
Very Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Since his earliest days in the Mekons, there's always been a certain purposeful sloppiness in Jon Langford's music, as the rough textures and blunt corners reflected the hard lives and mean circumstances of the people he most often wrote about. But as one of the busiest music men in Chicago, a city full of prolific musicians, Langford has had to face the hard truth that he and his colleagues have gotten better with the passage of time, and his 2014 album with his band Skull Orchard is the point where he and his bandmates reveal that yes, they're actually a great band that not only has great ideas, but can execute them very well indeed. Here Be Monsters is, like many of his albums before it, a snapshot of the world at the time it was made, and once again, Langford and his crew have offered us a handful of well-rendered sketches of young men waging war like it's a video game, older men making a fortune from life and death conflicts, regular folks struggling to get by as mere survival becomes a greater burden, and the despair or casual hopelessness that sinks so many.
Jon Langford's a Wales native who made his first mark in the late 1970s with the eminently British post-punk of the Mekons, but he's lived in America for decades and has been paying homage to American roots music even longer. Starting with the Mekons’ 1985 album Fear and Whiskey, folk and country have played large parts in almost all of Langford’s releases, both with the Mekons and on his many side projects such as Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. It’s his solo albums, though, that have been the most intimate showcases of Langford’s fascination with Americana.
The appellation of Renaissance Man is one that is bandied about with far too little discretion these days, but Jon Langford is one of the few who comes closest to deserving such a mantle. Langford has long been held in high regard for his songwriting since it first came on the radar of the general public with the birth of the Mekons in the late 1970s. Even more significant has been his response from the art world.
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard Here Be Monsters (In De Goot) In his three-and-a-half decades as the hardest working man in punk, rock, and roots, Mekons/Waco Brothers/Three Johns co-frontman and multimedia visionary Jon Langford has established a lofty standard of brawny melodicism and personally and politically charged songcraft, building a formidable songbook on a foundation of stubborn humanism and a finely honed sense of the absurd. Here Be Monsters, the Brit expat's latest under the recurring Skull Orchard banner, embodies all of the qualities of Langford's best work, emphasizing the bittersweet, introspective edge that's become increasingly prominent in his work in recent years. The latter quality, underlined by the complementary contrast of Langford's hearty wail and the evocative vox of actress/comic Tawny Newsome and violinist Jean Cook, is particularly affecting on "Summer Stars," "Mars," and "Sugar on Your Tongue," while the starkly acoustic "If You Hear Rumours" arrives as a timely anthem.
It might be the least likely comparison imaginable. One of the chief punk pontificators makes an album that for all the world has him sounding like, wait for it… Ian Hunter fronting Pink Floyd. Strange, you say. Indeed…and yet, that’s exactly what this Welsh-born, Chicago-based journeyman has done, in that he’s created a set of songs so thoughtful, so elaborate, so damn inventive on so many levels, that it becomes a fusion of art and sound of unexpected proportions.
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. This is a modal window.