Over the Mekons’ 25-year history, the band’s strongest works have been the result of flat-out ballsy experiments in synthesizing disparate musical forms. It may be country, punk, folk, loops and samples, or spoken word that they’re blending into the mix, but when the band nails it, they sound like no one else. (Hell, on a good album, they don’t even sound like themselves.)
Out Of Our Heads, the Mekons’ most accomplished album in at least a decade, stays true to that non-formula for success, pillaging the traditions of Anglo-American hymns and African-American gospel. With a ten-voice lineup — thanks to help from Kelly Hogan, Edith Frost and Ken Sluiter — the band has stripped down the instrumental arrangements and stressed the intricacy of their vocal explorations. In the process, they’ve taken the sounds of church music and respectfully pushed them through the art-punk filter.
The opener, “Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem”, immediately sets the tone with a mix of multi-part call-and-response chanting, drums, clapping, and rhythm guitar that adds up to less of a rock song and more of a massive, captivating, primal polyrhythm. “Take His Name In Vain” pairs the accordion work of Rico Bell with gospel-style vocal improvisations, and the album’s only cover song, “Lone Pilgrim”, finds the band brilliantly pilfering from the sacred harp songbook (possibly by way of Doc Watson and Bob Dylan).
Despite all this dappling, Out Of Our Heads is surprisingly cohesive, contemporary, and occasionally rocking. It’s the traditional underpinnings, though, that make the album, giving it a dark, timeless edge that’s far too rare in the realm of popular music.