The Upshot: It’s hard to tell where Lanegan leaves off and Garwood steps in, but that’s because the gravelly-voiced singers are so well matched and equally focused on a singular, spooky vibe.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood make a lot of sense together. They’re both gravelly-voiced singers with a ruminative air, both adept at the hallucinatory bends and slides and repetitions of blues guitar, both willing to look into the abyss, and, indeed, hardly able to tear themselves away from it. Both work, at least part of the time, in a smouldering, spectral mode, volume pitched at a murmur, but intensity nevertheless rather high. They have a history together, too. This is their second album as a duo, following 2013’s Black Pudding, and Garwood has played supporting roles on Lanegan’s Blues Funeral as well as last year’s Gargoyle.
With Animals, then, is a bare-bones incantation, recorded both together and separately with a minimal palette of voice (entirely Lanegan’s as far as I can tell), guitar, a few keyboards and programmed drums. The title refers to the fact that Lanegan keeps five pets at home where he recorded, and sharper ears than mine can, reportedly, pick up the occasional bark or meow. The album has a muted, tamped down air, at least compared to the last couple of Lanegan records. Songs run slow and hollowed out and mournfully contemplative; there are no extended instrumental solos, no rock excess, but rather a haunted, phosphorescent atmosphere, where melodies float among rings of smoke and fog. “C’mon now midnight children, sing a dark harmony,” Lanegan urges in the single, “Save Me,” which is as good a summation of With Animals’ nocturnal energies as any.
None of these tracks are overstuffed, but a few have been pared to eerie essence. The sparest, most ghostly cut, “Lonesome Infidel” does away with guitars altogether, running only an oscillating line of keyboard tone under it, notes that blink on and off like landing lights to bring its elliptical verses home. Finally even the words fade away into the murk and a whistler carries the melody, a small point of light moving through the darkest sort of cavern. “Scarlett,” with its thudding kick drum, its wavering tones of slide guitar, is similarly skeletal but lovely, its vocals distilled to basics: longing, sex and memory. Other cuts let the light in, just a little. “Upon Doing Something Wrong” proves again that something interesting happens when Lanegan’s ravaged voice is added to pristine, sun-dappled folk picking, while “Spaceman” moves further into twilight on shuffling, shaken percussion and slanting, note-shifting guitar.
With Animals reminds me of Lanegan’s work with Isobel Campbell, more acoustic, less bombastic, less ready to take you by the throat than his solo albums, but nonetheless quietly revelatory. It’s hard to tell, really, where he leaves off and Garwood steps in, but that’s because they’re so well matched and equally focused on a singular, spooky vibe.
DOWNLOAD: “Save Me” “Scarlett” “Upon Doing Something Wrong”