When Mark Lanegan teamed up with Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line to release the 12" single 'Skeleton Joe Manifesto' during the summer, it was difficult to foresee it being followed by a monster 16-track LP in the autumn. But this is precisely what has happened. Lanegan, once again pushing his own battered and relentless artistic boundaries to another level.
Lanegan and Cardamone's connection goes back almost a couple of decades when The Icarus Line toured with Mark's band in the early 2000s. XS Noize interviewed Mark earlier this year, and he said then about Cardamone, "I've always dug what he's been doing, musically." The majority of the album was finished in LA before Lanegan left the States for the west of Ireland in 2020.
The first track, 'Living Dead' is sinister, manic and industrial with sombre & haunting Lanegan lyrics -"Do you remember your Daddy; he lost his mind / He's just a shadow away." The current single, 'No Justice', sees them duet in the chorus - "Nobody sees, nobody cares." It has a sense of late-night excursions through a lawless & barren east Los Angeles cityscape - almost futuristic or apocalyptic in its delivery.
'Lost Animals' is pure poetry from Lanegan, with Cardamone's pulsing synths remaining low-key, letting the lyrics shine - "I slept straight through the spring while the flowers bloomed" / "People, don't you live a life like mine" / "I'm gonna keep standing on that stage in dirty combat boots, in a quietly dying rage." The searing and psychedelic 'Sanctified' continues the theme of being mere performers in a lonely world - "You're the actor on a stage."
The piano-based 'Crime' is heartfelt - "To me, my only living crime was loving her until I died." Whereas, the words within 'Traction' bring into sharp focus the many fellow artists & friends that both Lanegan and Cardamone have lost along the way during a harrowing personal journey for them - "I heard the news today, another friend went that way."
One of the best tracks on the LP is 'Turning in Reverse.' It has a distinctly post-punk texture to it with some of the most visceral and disturbing lyrics on the release - "I woke to find a spider bite, so infected I was paralysed. I felt the foundations start to crack." In 'Cold Summer', I picture Lanegan's shock & awe living in Europe, and more specifically at the mercy of the Atlantic weather in County Kerry, Ireland - "Watching these kids all day texting one another" / "Looks like one more week of rain" / "the rain comes pouring silver."
The lead track, 'Skeleton Joe Manifesto' is a microcosm of the album itself. A 12-minute deep-dive that is one half macabre disco, with a tongue-in-cheek audacity about it. The second half of the song (divided from the first half by wailing police sirens) is dark and menacing - "I can still hear you scream." Both 'Sunday Night 230am' and 'Basement Door' close the LP with a sense of mortality and reflection - "It makes me wonder how long I got to wander" / "I have been free, I have been caged. I'm all that's been, and I'm all that's aged" / "now I have a debt to pay before I leave from here."
Cardamone puts it well - "I always thought the record functioned on a day to night level. The hard songs are for when the sun is gone, and the cuts without percussion are for the day after the primal beating."
There is no doubt that the album oscillates between crazed, electronic terror and a more laid-back, ambient style output. It is experimental; it is raw. You could argue that it is slightly self-indulgent at 16 tracks; however, there is a brutal reality about the album that gives it a weight be-fitting of two accomplished artists who have an innate ability and desire to create & innovate continually.