Secret Meeting score: 88
by Philip Moss
Mark Lanegan has worked collaboratively for almost his entire post-Screaming Trees career. First, with ex-Belle & Sebastian chanteuse, Isobel Campbell, on his Mercury Prize nominated work; with Afghan Whigs main man, Greg Dulli, as The Gutter Twins; and consistently – across his solo and Mark Lanegan Band records – with producer, Alain Johannes of Queens of The Stone Age. But another name that’s appeared in the liner notes of almost everything Lanegan has put out over the last decade is Duke Garwood – an English multi-instrumentalist/composer, and the man given an equal co-credit on new album, With Animals.
Opening song, Save Me – perhaps the record’s most immediate number – is a miasma of haunting drum machines and twisted church organs. But where you can feel the incoming of roaring guitars, you’ll have to leave that to your imagination as they never come. This is a theme across the collection. Where Harwood’s chiming acoustic took centre stage on the pair’s last collaborative LP, 2013’s Black Pudding, the beast has been restrained here. But for a couple of tracks, the guitars here are either buried or none existent.
Garwood has explained that in the past Lanegan would have the bare bones of work down before the pair convened. However, this time he was the one who set to work first, building gothic soundscapes that they would then embellish together. Although at no point does this sound like the tetralogy of ‘Mark Lanegan Band’ records released between 2004-2017. Centrepiece, Scarlett, is perhaps the prototype example of the sinewy monochrome that makes up the record, swirling in a fuzz of claustrophobic susurration.
Yet, despite its brilliance, it’s the B-side where it really comes alive. First through the caged melancholy of perhaps the record’s best moment, Lonesome Infidel. A glorious three-minute dirge of pulsing, humming synths that finally gives way to an isolated whistle; a track that would slot perfectly onto Nick Cave’s Push The Sky Away LP. The title track, With Animals, is a swirling and pulsating slab of looping blues and modern psychedelia. While One Way Glass carries the album’s most overt pop melody, but – in keeping with the vibe throughout – is anything but a pop tune.
Lanegan’s career has been defined by carefully choosing where to engage his synergic energies. But as he settles into his third decade as a song writer, could it be that he’s found the perfect wing man in Duke Garwood? Because together they’ve created one of 2018’s most carefully crafted and unprecedented successes.
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