Jon Langford of the Mekons and Katrin Bornfeld of the Ex have been fellow travelers for a couple decades. Their bands have shared stages, covered each other’s songs, and the Welsh-born singer-guitarist produced the Ex before the German-born singer-drummer had even joined them. Even so, this collaboration is a surprise; while Langford always seems to be up for another project, Kat’s much more occasional adventures outside the Ex have generally been with Dutch improvisers, like Ig Henneman.
Fittingly it was a moment of near-disaster that brought them together. The Ex invited Langford to emcee their 25th anniversary celebration and promised to back him up on a few songs, then forgot their promise. It was easier to just have the drummer sit in than teach the band some songs in an afternoon, and when sparks flew onstage they decided to keep it going.
Their earlier sets drew from Mekons and Ex extensions, but their first record is mainly composed of originals, the singing split between the two parties. While nothing on here hits quite as hard as “Bouquet of Barbed Wire” or “Death of the European,” it draws from the same well of righteous lefty anger that has inspired much of each party’s best work. Bad times can forge good political art, and there’s plenty to beef about these days.
“Do You” kicks off the record with a bobbing beat that merges rockabilly and Ex-clatter and the duo trading the lines “You break it / You buy / Your country / Bye-bye.” Not too pretty, but you know just what they’re talking about it. “Machine Gun & Ugly Doll” sounds like the survival manual that Homeland Security won’t want you to read, and Langford hasn’t sounded as pissed off as he does on “Red Flag” in years. On that song, the urgency also creeps into his playing; big, slashing chords sneak in and out of echo canyons and rolling beats like Apache guerillas swooping out from behind a butte to pick off another wagon train.