Eclectic defined on physical release of band’s lockdown recording
Previously released on Bandcamp in 2020, ‘Exquisite‘ is the definition of a Covid Lockdown album with band members recording their contributions separately for what had originally been conceived to be an in person in the studio creation. As the liner notes put it: “‘Exquisite’ was recorded in lockdown on mobile phones, broken cassette recorders, clay tablets & other ancient technologies in Aptos, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York & Devon.” These disparate parts were then merged into a series of sonic landscapes across a variety of musical styles – from the rock feeling but folk influenced ‘West Yorks Ballad‘ through the folk-dub of ‘Buried Treasures‘ to the sound experimentation of ‘Drink The New Wine.‘ It’s a mix that reflect the bands forty year evolution from their punk roots in Leeds to a world spanning collective that have embraced roots – and that’s not just folk – reggae and elements of the dance scene amongst others. It’s an avant-garde mix that may well not appeal to those with a narrow definition of Americana. Challenging, some might aver. Too clever for its own good might be another interpretation. In reality there’s nothing here though to frighten anyone who has embraced ‘Revolution 9‘.
It’s an album that reflects the times it was created for. ‘Nobody‘ paints a folk-apocalypse of solitude, black skies, hostile fish and a recollection of exhausted emotional collapse, with colour added by the Scarlet Rivera-esque violin and mournful Tijuana brass. ‘What I Believe At Night‘ wearies through the dark hours of a world falling apart – “all we worked for fucking gone” – but makes what seems an unlikely claim for optimism “what I believe at night is not what I believe in the morning“. ‘Corn and Grain‘ is twisted folk, kin to Eliza Carthy’s The Imagined Village either as sibling or progenitor (discuss). ‘Buried Treasure‘ is the album’s most engaging, hooky song – all floating bass lines, a touch of echoey percussion and a look at This England in an ever-changing and never-changing cycle of shifting borders as tribes come and go – from the West Mercians to the liminal lands between the canal and Tesco’s carpark. And the title track? It’s a dissection of the failings of modern society, driven by the pure needs of profit, made to the booming and bouncing of electronic interjections. Jarring and absorbing in equal measure.
The cynical could say it’s business as usual for the Mekons – swimming in musical contradictions and making an album that could be fairly called confusing. But this is their path, and if anyone is entitled to make an album like ‘Exquisite‘ then surely after more than forty years it is Mekons?