Welcome to the world of Mark Lanegan Version 2.0; an electronic, ambient, shoe-gazing evolution from his previous forays into the world of stoner rock and sweet duets with former Belle and Sebastian members. Lanegan has been, over the length of his career, somewhat of a musical chameleon, and on this ‘teaser’ EP preceding his forthcoming record, ‘Phantom Radio’, his influences can be traced from the likes of Massive Attack, especially so on title track, ‘No Bells on Sunday’, a slice of dreamy delicateness so divine it makes his previous work with Queens of the Stone Age seem positively thrashy.
The standout moment is opening track, ‘Dry Iced’, an atmospheric, kraut disco-infused number, based around a repetitive synth line and four-to-the-floor drum patterns, both underpinned by that unmistakable, grizzled tone which Lanegan is so known for. It could well be one of the best tracks he Lanegan has produced; as an opener, it works brilliantly, with those languid vocals used sparingly to great effect.
‘Sad Lover’ is the weakest track on offer, a pedestrian rock song which is perfunctory but nothing more. The only track built around an electric guitar, it feels a little out of place alongside the synths and keyboards. Then ‘Jonas Pap’ comes out of leftfield completely, and sees Lanegan adopt his best Pentangle impersonation, singing, almost nursery style, over a delicately plucked acoustic guitar, the only concession to this being a folk song written in 2014, not 1964, coming with a string section. It takes a few listens, and may initially appear a bizarre inclusion, but eventually it clicks into place, and showcases a new side of Mark Lanegan.
The final track, ‘Smokestack Magic’, is a thunderous conclusion, a seven minute tour-de-force which spends the first five minutes building up to the crescendo, industrial sounds over a screeching percussion, Lanegan’s voice mixed in and out, sending the instrumentation to the forefront of the track. It is a complete contrast to how the EP begins, but somehow, it works.
Mark Lanegan has deftly whetted the appetite for the autumn release of ‘Phantom Radio’ with these five tracks, and going by the standard on offer here, it could well be one of the best albums of 2014. For Lanegan aficionados and newcomers alike, this is a worthy addition.