Jon Langford and Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters

Those that didn’t enjoy Skull Orchard before won’t be won over, but it doesn’t change the fact that those naysayers have conspicuously terrible taste.
Jon Langford
Here Be Monsters
In De Goot

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. His portraits of country and rock luminaries have been well received for years, gracing many a public and private collection.

Artistic recognition aside, Music continues to be be a priority. Beyond his regular gig as a member of OG punk collective the Mekons, Langford has tenured as one of the Three Johns and has played with the rag-tag band of bar pillagers know as the Waco Brothers for almost 20 years. Our hero has made the greater Chicago area his home for the last couple decades, taking full advantage of the collaborative possibilities on offer, but solo musical projects are not unfamiliar to the Langford schedule. Skull Orchard was the name of the first Langford solo release, eventually becoming the moniker of the band backing him, a cast of the usual suspects that is essentially the Waco Brothers without lead guitarist Dean Schlabowske.

It’s been a bit since we’ve seen a new Skull Orchard record. Historically, Skull Orchard has been the outlet for materials Langford found too personal or Welsh for his other projects; this ex-pat pride extended to Langford re-recording the debut SO record in 2011 accompanied by the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus. Here Be Monsters is bedrocked in more stateside domestic matters, from the perspective of a man who has seen more mornings than he stands to see in the future, yet finds little to be firm or secure. The albums title refers to the legend that early cartographers would place in the margins of their maps to reflect yet to be documented areas.

Undocumented territory may be the theme of Here Be Monsters, but the music remains rooted in traditional rock and folk/country forms. Despite the sheer volume of projects, Langford keeps the standard pretty high across the board and this is no exception. Monsters is a little more band-driven, skewed more towards the Mekons end of things on tracks like “Don’t Believe” and “Mars”. Lead single “Sugar on Your Tongue” and “If You Hear Rumors” are high points, but for the most part Here Be Monsters is as solid as you have come to expect for a Langford project. It also marks the closest cross-pollination of the Langford artistic mediums. Here Be Monsters is the debut recorded release from the recording arm of Chicago based management group In De Goot and is distributed through longtime Langford associates Bloodshot Records. Langford painted a piece for every song in on the project, sometimes inspired by the song, often serving as the genesis for it. Those that didn’t enjoy Skull Orchard before won’t be won over, but it doesn’t change the fact that those naysayers have conspicuously terrible taste.

RATING 6 / 10