I hate to call this a concept album, but all of the songs, including How Many Stars from the Mekons new album Deserted is a gently swaying reggae-fueled paean to the vastness of the desert. And each song evokes that vastness and emptiness, along with the weird, the ugly and the misfits who call the desert their home. Recorded near Joshua Tree National Park in California, this fascinating band’s latest album and first studio full-length recording in eight long years bristles with post-punk brilliance that is at times infectious and at other times simply quite competent and lovely music.
For those old enough to remember the Mekons as one of the important first-wave British punk bands, their incorporation of folk, country and alt rock inflections made them unique and special.
The Mekons last album, 2011’s Ancient & Modern juxtaposed the current world with one of 100 years ago and captured the bands’ charmingly odd story telling at its best. The final result was not spectacular, but it served its purpose for those who have come to accept new music being issued in multi-year stretches. Deserted is much more focused and also much more raw, with a raucous opening tune entitled Lawrence of California, based on a latter-day T.E. Lawrence renegade leading an insurgent army in the vastness of Death Valley.
There are homages to the B-52s, Iggy Pop, The Clash and REM-ish heavy guitar chord changes and the usual mix of male and female lead singers that really light up the night. Maximum volume is a prerequisite to enjoying Deserted. I listened to the entire album three straight times and still felt like I had to explore more of the nuances and crevices packed into this early contender of mine for album of the year.