Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mark Lanegan Turns Up Phantom Radio

As a solo artist or talented collaborator, Mark Lanegan continues to expand his career into something colossal. His near back-to-back releases — Phantom Radio and No Bells On Sunday EP — prove once again that his esoteric talents are meant to transverse the musical landscape. He is an explorer.

Building upon his last release, Blues Funeral, Lanegan captures even more from the music he loves and then finds original ways to convey it within his own compositions. This, more than anything else, is driving him to  experiment across a broader body of work. Anything new is part of his passion.

If anything else stands out on Phantom Radio and the accompanying EP (which was added to the deluxe edition of the LP), it's that Lanegan is comfortable with where he is in life and in his musical career. He doesn't have anything to prove anymore, freeing his creative spirit in the process.

Phantom Radio is every bit an addiction. 

If you think of every track as a fine dining experience condensed down into a hard-worked meal by a short order cook, you're one step closer to understanding the accomplishment here. Opening with Harvest Home, Lanegan shares exactly where he is on an album that pulls in British post-punk, world-weary Americana folk rock, and 1980s satellite music. At times, the combination electrifies.

After the opener, Lanegan  immediately shifts gears in the second track and takes a much more minimalistic approach to intone the end of times. It's something not everyone will appreciate.

Although not religious himself, Lanegan nearly whispers the vision against a faint and repressive acoustic strum that provides the thinnest of foundations. Where it works is in his ability to infuse acceptance within the dread of it, delivered in a package that comes close to near nothingness.

He does something similar with I Am The Wolf, crafting a minimalistic interpretation that grasps at finding some wisdom in a world that he will one day leave behind. While the album version is richer, the grizzled feel comes across loud and clear on the live session he performed on KEXP.


Of course, that is not to say that everything on the album is minimalistic. In addition to composing some drum sections and percussion with a smartphone app called Funk Box, Lanegan tapped some assists. Most notable is his long-time producer Alain Johannes. The result is often an enveloping moodiness in tracks like Floor Of The Ocean or an electronic groove like the one that defines The Killing Season.

Seventh Day and Death Trip To Tulsa are infused and informed by gospel and blues, two genres that define his earliest lyrical influences. As for the lyrics themselves, most of his work has become bits and pieces of dreams alongside interpretation of experiences. But what makes them stand out hasn't changed. Lanegan is unquestionably intimate in his ability to strike a chord of emotive desolation.

When added to the five tracks that were originally released as a vinyl only offering, Phantom Radio and No Bells On Sunday make for a diverse and unforgettable 15-track experience. He might have originally called the five tracks from No Bells "too goofy" for a full length, but they somehow do a fine job complementing and completing the sparser set of ten on Phantom Radio.

Phantom Radio By Mark Lanegan Band Tunes In 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Capitalizing on his ability to create music that feels more substantial and significant than flash-in-the-pan pop, Mark Lanegan has created a benchmark album with Phantom Radio. It works both as a commutation of everything he has learned and as a benchmark of where he is today but may not be tomorrow. Either way, there is a personal wisdom woven into the words of his work.

Phantom Radio is available on its own from Amazon or you can download the deluxe edition that includes No Bells On Sunday via iTunes. Visit Barnes & Noble for Phantom Radio on CD. For discounted and used CDs featuring Mark Lanegan, visit F.Y.E. Tours and shows are listed on Facebook.