Never one to rest on his laurels, Mark Lanegan is always on the cusp of collaboration. After the break up of his successful Seattle-based band Screaming Trees, he released a steady flow of albums as a solo artist on top of his work with Queens of the Stone Age, Soulsavers and Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs.
However, his first record with British multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood, 2013’s Black Pudding, was the first time he stepped out of his comfort zone. This trend has continued for the pair’s second studio effort. Writing was split between studio collaboration and sharing music between Garwood’s home in London and Lanegan’s in LA. The magic of modern technology then did the rest; ironic considering the album is far more simplistic on a sonic level.
With less intricate guitar work on display, With Animals is constructed in a way that sounds beautifully antiquated with more attention paid to the overall visceral facets. “Over the years, we’ve recorded together and apart. This time, I started this record alone, with many animals as company,” said Garwood. “It flowed, I set to work and out it came. Our music is instinct, there is not much talking about it, just creating. I think that if you are at peace with your work, and feeling it right, it flows, and can feel ‘easy’.”
Recorded in LA, Pasadena and Joshua Tree, the record’s 12 songs immerse the listener into the vast soundscapes. Intricate notes, rhythmic pulses and pulsating melodies then become more apparent in later listens.
Album opener ‘Save Me’ escorts you in with a steady electronic drum beat before ‘Feast to Famine’s melancholic theme is partnered with an unassuming guitar line. Lanegan’s deep voice then comes to the fore in ‘My Shadow Life’: “I Love You Baby / I Love You” he repeats throughout in a style akin to Leonard Cohen, all under the backdrop of a sparse beat.
Meanwhile, ‘Upon Doing Something Wrong’ takes the album down a morbid avenue as atmospheric, haunting compositions cycle through a minimalistic fingerpicking chord progression. ‘L.A Blue’ then comes along in a purposely lo-fi fashion that creates a sober feel.
The record’s epicentre arrives in the form of ‘Scarlett’ and ‘With Animals’, with Lanegan spacing out his vocal delivery, allowing the subtle nuances of Garwood’s instrumentation to come to the fore; creating a hypnotic showcase. ‘Desert Song’ then closes proceedings in what is a slow, direct acoustic track: “Please let me continue this dream / even though it can’t be believed”, cries Lanegan as he demonstrates the new found purity in his vocal delivery.
Overall, this is a more emotional outing than last time but this is also balanced with greater structure and enhanced production. After three decades of releases, Lanegan has made his most original and thought-provoking LP yet.