Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FIRST IMPRESSION: Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio

Mark Lanegan gets pegged as a bit of a dark character, and that criticism is not without some validity.  There’s the whiskey-soaked baritone, the knuckle tattoos, the (now almost two decades gone) predilection for hard substances, and a lyrical preoccupation with themes that are Old Testament “heavy”.  Which makes his preoccupation with antique drum machines and synthesizers all the more intriguing (and probably confounding for those who haven’t kept up with the 20-some releases he’s released in the past two decades and are expecting more “Whiskey for the Holy Ghost”).   Focusing the electronic palate that he tinkered with on 2012’s great “Blues Funeral” (and utilizing that album’s Alain Johannes as his primary collaborator), Lanegan filters his observations of sin and salvation through a barrage of synths and an iPhone drum app.  

What could come off as gimmicky works, and the dichotomy between the backing and Lanegan’s lyrics gives them an extra depth.  The clickety-clack and synth burbles that underpin “Floor of the Ocean” elevate what could have been fairly boilerplate lyrics, and the creative sonic restlessness bears striking fruit on mid-album standout “Seventh Day” and album-ender “Death Trip to Tulsa” (how is it that “Dark Mark” hasn’t written a song with this title yet???)  A couple songs are a bit underwritten or too same-sounding, and there is nothing as relentlessly aggressive as “Blues Funeral” opener “The Gravedigger’s Song” or as left-of-center as that album’s “Ode to Sad Disco”, but the distillation of themes and sounds makes for a rewarding, if not as immediate, listen.   

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