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The Mekons most people are familiar with was one of the great second-wave punk bands of the early '80s. Along with bands like the Gang of Four (who, like the Mekons formed at Leeds University), The Ex, and The Fall, the Mekons married the independence and power of Sex Pistols- and The Clash-style punk rock with avant-garde experimentation, artiness, and politics. But more than anything else, the early Mekons were distinguished by their riotous live performances, their infectious enthusiasm, and their joyous adventurism. After the 1979 release of their amateurish, lo-fi, somewhat abrasive debut album, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, the Mekons soon became more accomplished as a band.

After releasing a handful of wild post-punk rave-ups, the Mekons abruptly switched gears with 1985's lovely Fear and Whiskey, a ragged countrified record more informed by the legacies of Hank Williams and Gram Parsons than of Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten. Since then, the Mekons have experimented with a wide range of musical idioms, playing everything from political punk to stark country music to guitar-happy pub rock to synth pop to elegiac folk. Their lineup has changed considerably, with only co-frontmen Jon Langford and guitarist Tom Greenhalgh remaining from the band's earlier incarnation, but there's still a kind of slaphappy elegance to their sound which makes them utterly distinctive.

In 1991, Langford and singer Sally Timms moved to Chicago, and have since enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Quarterstick Records, putting out half a dozen albums. Journey to the End of the Night -- featuring "Last Night on Earth" -- is a somber, folksy affair full of accordions, fiddles, harmonicas, autoharps, and ragged group vocals. It has the intimate, melancholy feeling of a group of lifelong friends chewing over some of life's conundrums in a rented cabin somewhere far away from the city -- a little drunk, a little sad, a little sleepy. Their most recent album, OOOH! ("Out of Our Heads") was a celebration of the band's 25th anniversary and introduced four-part vocal harmonizations featuring Sally Timms, Tom Greenhalgh, Jon Langford, and Rico Bell. The Mekons couldn't sound much more different than they did a quarter of a century ago, but they remain a powerful, emotive rock band.