I got to know Jon Langford back in the mid-80s when the English post-punk band he co-led, Mekons, revived themselves as a killer alt-country rock band with the album “Fear and Whiskey.” A longtime resident of Chicago, Langford continues to purue art – really, he’s a great painter of iconic images (Hank, Johnny, Elvis) – and music. He’s with yet another of projects Skull Orchard– I hesitate to call it “side” – tonight, April 3 at Atwood’s Tavern. Their latest album, “Here Be Monsters,” came out two days ago. It’s in the folk/country music into punk rock vein. Aching at times, fierce at others. Langford is a leftie – with a sharp sense of humor – so he can expect a bit of politics in the song and in chat at the show.
Langford describes the new disc this: “The subtext of the album is maybe the things our civilization thinks of as fixed and immovable might actually be redundant/obsolete/discredited and it’s up to us to question and find new rocks to be washed up on.” For this new album, Langford called in Mekons/Waco Brothers veteran Mike Hagler (My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Neko Case, Billy Bragg) to record at Chicago’s Kingsize Sound Labs.
“Skull Orchard used to be a fairly solitary activity” says Langford, “but this is much more of a band project than any of the solo things I’ve done before.”
“There’s a lot of explosive stuff on the record,” Langford continues. “I don’t know if I was fashioning songs to exploit that, but I definitely wanted to make a band album. It’s not just me strumming an acoustic guitar, sitting ‘round in my basement. It just turned into a really great band. We existed and it seemed like a time to get everybody fully involved rather than it just being me.”
Langford plots a clear-eyed, sharp-elbowed course through such far-flung subjects as alternative hierarchies and astronomy, perpetual war for perpetual profit, the culture of detachment, middle age, fatherhood, fame, and the fleetingness of love. Songs like “If You Hear Rumours,” and the rather glorious power ballad, “Sugar on Your Tongue,” are provocative and playful, with the hard-charging Skull Orchard kicking out genre-agnostic rock ‘n’ roll as rich and surprising as anything found in Langford’s far-reaching canon. A seething, stem-winding broadside, “Drone Operator,“ suggests that raining death from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles named “Reaper” and “Predator” might create a few “boundary issues” in their joystick-wielding, computer-jockey pilots. It reaches its own frontier with “Don’t Believe,” a declaration of true faith penned and first performed by Langford’s longtime friend, musician/filmmaker/punk Viv Albertine.
“She’s a pal,” says Langford. “I just thought it was such a great song, it said a lot of things that really fit with my subject matter for this album. It’s kind of like a star map of things not to believe in alongside a star map of things that are solid and tangible and real. ‘I believe in corrugated iron’ – just fantastic.”
Added bonus: Thalia Zedek. Starts at 9:45. Tickets: $12.
877 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-864-2792 www.atwoodstavern.com