With plans later in the year to release full-length album Phantom Radio, The Mark Lanegan Band warms up with mini-release No Bells On Sunday. The EP contains songs Lanegan deemed “too goofy” for the future album and gives a taste of what’s soon to come.
With first track ‘Dry Ice’, the new direction is immediate. The simple kick drum, the intricate synthesised ambience and the gentle guitars lay a floor for Lanegan’s gravel-scratched voice for which he’s revered, that becomes the centrepiece of the music. This foundation is true for the first two tracks and makes a return on the last. Where ‘Dry Ice’ sets the tone with its electronic sound, the potential for this new direction shines on the title track, which seeps a delicate, content atmosphere. This is reinforced by Lanegan’s beautifully careful lyrics – “The vanishings begun we’re drowning late at night/the blown glass set in sun weeps electric light” that occupy the slow-paced song. The subtleties of the first track and the atmosphere of the second both come together magnificently on the closer ‘Smokestack Magic’.
This EP also sees Lanegan step out of his comfort zone in other ways as it briefly takes a step back from the synth with the more up-beat ‘Sad Lover’, featuring a range much higher than is usual for the singer. Jonas Pap tells an oddly minimal tale, accompanied by a soothing string section.
Lanegan’s treads toward synth territory is definitely where this record shines. Particularly with the incredibly calming atmosphere created on the title track. As it moves away from these aspects with ‘Sad Lover’ and ‘Jonas Pap’ you wish it hadn’t, as nice as it is to hear the singer try something new.
No Bells On Sunday is a display of a promising new direction and if this is just a sample of what to expect from Phantom Radio, we can expect great things.