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The Mekons Go 'Natural'

Members of the British punk band The Mekons have been making music together for about 30 years now. Originally inspired by The Sex Pistols, the group has wandered far from its roots. The Mekons' new album, Natural, finds the group opting for acoustic instruments over screeching electric guitars.

Twenty-six albums into the band's career, Natural finds The Mekons walking in a post-apocalyptic world, full of past and present, but precious little future. Humanity's fleeting impact on the earth has ended. What remain are the timeless things — stone circles, plants, myths, animals and friendships. That might sound depressingly dour, but the results have a surprisingly hopeful quality, as on "White Stone Door."

Recorded over a couple of years in a pair of rural English locations, Natural stands even more removed from the musical mainstream than most Mekons albums. There's a studied artlessness to it — it might sound thrown together, but it's the product of plenty of thought and work. Even at its most accessible, on the reggae-tinged "Cockermouth," it remains tantalizingly elusive — after all, how many songs can weave together a ramble through Wordsworth country, with mentions of The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and naturalist Henry David Thoreau?

Members of The Mekons might have started out as punks in 1977, but three decades on, they've evolved into a category of their own, outside any pigeonhole. But with its sly humor, iconoclastic wisdom, and mix 'n' match music ethos, the mostly acoustic Natural hews closer to the real spirit of punk than any CD of buzz saw guitars and shouted lyrics.

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Chris Nickson