£16.99 – 180 g LP & DL Code
It all starts with an incantation; something shamanic from a death mask Pied Piper. Over the stuttering click and kick of a primitive drum box and a wash of ebbing, flowing sound, a voice invites the listener to join his nocturnal chorus.
“C’mon now midnight children, sing a dark harmony / lay it down midnight people, create your own alchemy.”
Like a crack of light glimpsed from behind a closed door in the black of night, it is a weird and compelling proposition, the first track (entitled Save Me) in the remarkable sequence of songs that forms With Animals.Recorded in LA, Pasadena and Joshua Tree, With Animals is the second album by Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood, two artists who’ve spent their careers stalking the peripheries and mapping sounds of the small hours. The record’s twelve songs are spectral and sinewy, often defined by the spaces in between the sounds. A ghost’s whistle weaves itself around a pulsing single note on Lonesome Infidel; Feast to Famine’s hard luck story floats above a guitar part so strung out and washed with distortion it’s become barely recognisable. It’s soul music for anyone who’s long since left the crossroads.
Over the last decade, Lanegan and Garwood have worked in tangent on 2013’s Black Pudding as well as on Lanegan’s solo records (Garwood contributed to 2012’s Blues Funeral and 2017’s Gargoyle after which he toured as part of Lanegan’s band). Writing and recording was split between studio collaboration and sharing music between Garwood’s home in London and Lanegan’s in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, technology helped make the duo’s transatlantic working relationships relatively easy. “Over the years, we’ve recorded together and apart. This time, I started this record alone, with many animals as company,” says 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’. Music isn’t meant to be hard. Though sometimes it can burn you to ashes. Making music for a singer, so they can inhabit it with a song means hitting the right soul buttons. There is no hit without a miss. It is a healing record, for us the makers, and for the listeners. It grows natural. We are gardeners of sonic feelings.”
While Black Pudding puts Garwood’s mercurial guitar centre stage, With Animals is constructed from a different set of tools. Analogue and dust flecked, it sounds like Lanegan and Garwood have been holed up in a ’60s recording studio while the apocalypse rages outside. Tracks sit on loops that sounds like they’re straight out of There’s A Riot Goin’ On while sparse melodies nod in the direction of British electronic producers like Burial or Boards of Canada. Which is not to say it sounds like any of those things – this is a weird world all of their own design.“The music is lo-fi, hi-fi run through star dust analogue,” says Garwood. “It’s an 8 track cassette tape machine. Studio tracks got put through the tape to wring out the digital elements of slow tools – one has to override the digital with pure soul, and not be too clean. All effects on the record are genuinely analogue, with love. With dust.”
As befits a record called With Animals, these dusty songs sound like they’re created in the company of the denizens of the night; cats eyes glimpsed in the dark with the fizz and flicker of insects around a dying light.“Although most of these songs where recorded in the day,” says Duke, “Before the sun gets too high… that midnight sound is always there in my heart I suppose. I figure its always midnight somewhere. “
The album’s most direct, most affecting track is the closing Desert Song. Over two and a little more minutes of acoustics, Lanegan pleads the impossible: “Please let me continue this dream / even though it can’t be believed”. It’s the emotional flip side of Save Me, the album opener – alone and uncertain against that track’s communal voodoo. As Duke points out, the impression the listener is left with is no coincidence.“After eight days spent recording the bulk of the record, we went up to Joshua Tree to rehearse for a benefit show. I awoke before the dawn; my small island mind was blown away by the sight of the sunrise. I wrote Desert Song right there, took it down the lane to Rancho and we recorded it that night. I truly believe it was meant to be.”
It’s as pure and spontaneous an ending to an album as one could hope for – a catharsis of sorts and a piece of true alchemy created by two brilliantly singular talents. Here’s to many more of those sunrises… and to those midnight gatherings too.
1 Save Me
2 Feast to Famine
3 My Shadow Life
4 Upon Doing Something Wrong
5 L.A Blue
7 Lonesome Infidel
8 With Animals
9 Ghost Stories
11 One Way Glass
12 Desert Song