Mark Lanegan is the monster under your bed. With the aural equivalent of barreled whiskey going through a nasty divorce in his throat and armed with death ballads aplenty, Lanegan’s solo work trends toward the darkly mythical. But it was always an earthly horror he brought. On the frail and frayed With Animals, he’s lost some punch and has added sadness. Now he haunts rather than stalks.

This is ashen, faded music; even Lanegan’s app-based percussion seems filtered through soot. It’s blues of an ethereal sort. It’s beautiful at times, terrifying too, but Lanegan’s greatest strength has always been rugged sounds. With Animals falls into the mist and only occasionally finds its way out. At its worst, it feels slight—a strange thing for Lanegan, who could make his half-minute songs sound like sublime scope changers (though he does pull that off with closer “Desert Song”). Too much reverb adorns his voice, when his rusty croak needs nothing.

This is Lanegan’s gloomiest album. Even excluding end-of-time revelations hidden in his lyrics, the music is somber enough on its own. His constant sideman Duke Garwood provides an abyssal background for him to moan over. With Animals strikes the balance from late-era Earth’s minimal hymns and Beach House at their most fatal. The title track’s cracked and dissolving guitar is reminiscent of the bite-sized apocalypse of Radiohead’s “Hunting Bears” and the stark burn of “L.A. Blues” is “House of the Rising Sun,” post-nuclear fallout. That song is a phantasmal tour through the sunset strip, a late-night guide with all the pomp and color drained from Los Angeles, with only the grit and grime left.

The deeply muddy, ghostly sounds, like being possessed at the Skinwalker Ranch, are perfect backgrounds for his mediations on sin and isolation. “Something lonelier than death” he coos on penultimate track “One Way Glass.” “Don’t take me away from this dream,” he cries as the album ends, Spanish-flavored guitar fluttering behind him. “Slide trombones, alien clones,” he slurs right after, which might be silly if he wasn’t evoking Tom Waits at his most depressed. “Girl you are a sorcerer/ A seraphim/ A murderer,” he alternates on the title track. The sadness never takes a solid form on With Animals, more painting impressions of possible “Deadwood” or Dark Tower fantasies.

If Mark Lanegan, the character, has been riding through the Old West with his 2010s output, then With Animals is the end of the road for this cowboy. Death lurks and looms in every note. Lanegan’s voice sounds frail, the first time in his career where a sense of fadedness inhabits a full album. Scattered imagery of the end of days, biblical floods and the four horsemen all swirl back to a much more personal apocalypse. “I’m good for the damage,” he croaks, trying to make up for the terminal world caving in around him. Even at his weakest, both vocally and musically, Lanegan can’t help but put a shiver up your spine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Telefon Tel Aviv: Dreams Are Not Enough

Telefon Tel Aviv’s brutish, dark and lonely return. …