Review by Will Harris
Flooded Soil/Heavenly Recordings
Release date:25th August 2014
It’s been a long old ride for the smoky-voiced Mark Lanegan, who started out making psychedelic grunge-rock with the Screaming Trees and in the years since has made a respectable name for himself as a serial collaborator, while blazing his own trail of solo albums through Americana, hard rock and, most recently, electronica-heavy guitar music. His new EP, No Bells On Sunday, continues in this vein, comprising off-cuts Lanegan deemed “too goofy” to make it onto his upcoming full-length due for release this autumn.
Within the first 20 seconds, the one thing that’s for certain is that the Seattle man’s clearly been working on his electro chops: swirling synths and layers of pulsing beats and rhythmic ticks soon begin to build around a guitar riff that could’ve easily come from any period of his career, but is seamlessly re-contextualised into spacey, retro-futuristic surroundings. Curious too is the way the thick, synthetic production of ‘Sad Lover’ is accompanied by a vocal style Lanegan has seldom used since his time fronting the Trees; this is a songwriter who is reaching into the past – both his own and that of British post-punk – and simultaneously carving a distinctive groove of his own into the present.
The hazy electronic gospel listeners were introduced to on Blues Funeral recurs on the title track, as does Lanegan’s psychedelic poetry (‘A blow glass setting sun / Weeps electric light’), and ‘Smokestack Magic’ remarkably ascends through ever-complicating beats and competing layers to Biblical imagery and words of confused salvation. At over eight minutes with little structure, you can see why it hasn’t made the LP, but it’s still a confounded glory to hear.
The EP’s only misfire is ‘Jonas Pap’, a hip-flask tribute weaved through acoustic guitar, banjo and strings, but hobbled by a key change that’s a little too audacious for what we’re initially led to believe is a mournful country lament – probably what Lanegan meant by “too goofy”. But if No Bells On Sunday is goofing around, Phantom Radio looks to be stellar.
7.5 out of 10
- Dry Iced
- No Bells On Sunday
- Sad Lover
- Jonas Pap
- Smokestack Magic