Sungenre Album of the Month – August 2018
While UK multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood has previously worked with American singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) on two of his solo albums (2012’s Blues Funeral and 2017’s Gargoyle), With Animals is their second release on equal billing. It follows on as a natural evolution to Black Pudding (2013), with a similar minimalist approach to instrumentation. However, this time around it’s with even more sparseness – forcing a newfound intent focus on Lanegan’s wistful and weathered baritone. An overall pure and enjoyable outing, it features a tighter, more structured and mature songwriting style coupled with brilliant production – carrying a rich analogue warmth which permeates every corner of the album’s 12 tracks. “It’s an eight track cassette tape machine,” explains Garwood. “Studio tracks got put through the tape to wring out the digital elements… All effects on the record are genuinely analogue, with love. With dust.”
Album opener “Save Me” is ushered in by a steady electronic drum beat with its high end frequency rolled off, in similar manner to “Roller Skates” by Nick Hakim (2017). Layered guitar and Mellotron flute parts creep in before Lanegan’s vocals kick off at the 54 second mark. “Free me, save me, see me, love me,” he intones in a seductive and hypnotic call-and-response. The song is basically made up of two alternating sections – the second bringing an air of mystique, with an evolving riff starting with “come on now night time children, sing your own harmony.”
A slight guitar amp hum is left in the mix at the start of “Feast to Famine”. Garwood layers simple broken chords as a foundation with gentle, subtle guitar noodling above, while Lanegan opens his vocal delivery on the dominant note in a Mixolydian scale. “What rolls down the window pane, could it be heaven’s rain,” he ponders, drawing the listener in closer to hear the tale of hard luck. The next track “My Shadow Life” is a song directed towards a love interest and recalling Lanegan’s work in QOTSA. Double-tracked vocals are panned hard on both sides, backed by simple electric guitar notes, a sparse beat and a brief soprano saxophone solo.
“Upon Doing Something Wrong” utilises a Mixolydian scale for its vocal melody again, with fingerstyle acoustic backing cycling through a simplistic chord progression. “Monday’s always raining, the fountain overflows, until I have you again,” sings Lanegan. “L.A. Blue” highlights the terrific production qualities of the record, with another amplifier hum and some slight background noise of coughs and percussion instruments being moved at the start. It creates a live and intimate atmosphere – impressive, given that the duo recorded their respective parts for the album apart, on two separate continents. “Over the years, we’ve recorded together and apart. This time, I started this record alone, with many animals as company,” says Garwood. “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’… Making music for a singer, so they can inhabit it with a song means hitting the right soul buttons… We are gardeners of sonic feelings.”
“Scarlett” strikes as a pensive song of longing, featuring a similar 6/8 pulse to “Feast to Famine” and bolstered by Mellotron flute and stripped-back guitar. The next song, “Lonesome Infidel” is carried by a pulsing single note cycling through a two chord progression. Both the melodic delivery and lyrical content of Lanegan’s vocals take on a nursery rhyme-like quality – “I picked a winter daffodil… Hear the horses running free”. Title track and single “With Animals” comes next, instantly feeling like a familiar classic, with an electronic drum beat which bears vague resemblance to Massive Attack’s hit song “Teardrop”.
After such a strong track, “Ghost Stories” comes as somewhat of a let-down. Garwood’s guitar noodling perhaps deliberately distracts from the weaker than usual vocals, but it feels unnecessary and misses the mark. Fortunately “Spaceman” saves proceedings with a relatively upbeat desert blues guitar and shaker instrumentation. Lanegan utilises a repetitive, catchy melody which bears the hallmarks of traditional folk songs.
“Something lonelier than death,” Lanegan sings on “One Way Glass” with simple acoustic guitar backing. The song bears a rather formulaic approach to song construction which, while still enjoyable and on point, may test the patience of many listeners towards the back end of the album. Album closer “Desert Song” is the single most raw track on the album, sounding like it was performed live by the duo in the same room and barely unaffected during the mixing stage of production. The fingerstyle acoustic accompaniment sounds as though it could carry on into Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” without a moment’s notice.
Overall, With Animals is a welcome and enjoyable listen which will very likely carry listeners off into a pensive daydream. It follows on nicely from Lanegan’s solo work and the duo’s previous collaborative album Black Pudding. However, with a tighter, more mature approach to songwriting and a rich analogue warmth, it easily outshines. Indeed, by having embraced his own voice and instead of imitating others as Lanegan may have done in the past, for the most part this outing exists in a space of its own creation.
With Animals is released Friday 24th August via Heavenly Records/PIAS.
Someone should school the child that wrote this review. I'm not an imitator of anyone. Go back and re-listen to your Tom Waits records and then listen to any of mine. then go listen to any Captain Beefheart record and tell me again who is the imitator. Fucking amateurs. Thnx
— mark lanegan (@marklanegan) August 4, 2018
For the record, I don't work with imitators, only INNOVATORS.
— Duke Garwood (@dukegarwood) August 6, 2018