Mark Lanegan Band – ‘Still Life With Roses’ EP Review

No stranger to the art of the remix (2014’s ‘Phantom Radio was remixed by a host of well-known artists including Moby and the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli), Mark Lanegan has followed up this year’s astonishing ‘Gargoyle’ with ‘Still life with Roses’, an EP that offers up  five tracks (‘Beehive’ appears twice) reshaped by the likes of Adrian Sherwood (Ministry, NIN) and Andrew Weatherall (New Order, My Bloody Valentine) for a six-track EP that acts as a mostly impressive companion piece to the original. Available on 12” vinyl and as a digital download, it expands upon the Spartan electronica of ‘Gargoyle’, allowing the tracks to ebb and flow in whole new ways. The results are certainly eclectic, if not always successful, and the EP should be approached with caution by those not keen on the more avant-garde end of the electronic music spectrum.

Adrian Sherwood’s reimagining of ‘Nocturne’ is up first, emphasising the power of the electronic beats that lie at the heart of the original, as well as drawing out the stinging guitar to craft a track that sits close to Gary Numan’s work with Sulphur. Relatively short, the use of filters gives the track a bleak, washed-out vibe, whilst echo effects see Mark’s voice circling the hypnotic beats, weaving in and out of view before disappearing into the ether once and for all. Next up, ‘Blue Blue Sea’ heads off into Aphex Twin territory via Not Waving’s ambitious remix. Vintage synths swirl and collide with the original track, rebuilding the piece to a point that renders the original visible only in brief snatches of the melody and heavily processed vocals that bear little resemblance to the weathered beauty of the original. ‘Old Swan’ is a lengthy reworking courtesy of Pye Corner Audio that introduces itself via huge synth chords before placing Mark’s vocal centre stage amidst the scratchy beats and burbling, Acid House bass lines reminiscent of Roland’s TB-03.

Andrew Weatherall gets two cracks of the whip at ‘Beehive’ with a remix and dub mix. Putting the two tracks next to one another is an odd move and it’s hard not to think that the EP would flow better as a whole if the tracks bookended it, particularly because, at nine minutes each, you have eighteen minutes of ‘Beehive’ to wade through right in the centre of the EP. Of the two tracks, the remix focuses more heavily on vocals, maintaining the bulk of the original whilst the dub version is stripped right back to a skittering beat, occasionally scarred by string scrapes and post-rock guitar atmospherics, with only elements of the original vocal line. The final track on the EP is a heavily overloaded version of ‘Death’s head tattoo’ courtesy of Blood Music that is so shot through with blistering sonic noise that it brings to mind the coruscating remixes that Atari Teenage Riot engaged in in the early 00’s. Mercifully short, it takes the subtle art-rock edge of the original and expands it into an aural nightmare that is borderline unlistenable.

‘Still life with roses’ is a fascinating deconstruction of one of the year’s best releases. It harks back to the late 90s when remix albums of bands like Mogwai were relatively commonplace and, like those albums, the result is varied depending on both remixer and choice of song. Familiarity with the original release is not necessarily essential, it’s easy to imagine ‘Nocturne’ and ‘old swan’ standing alone, but it certainly does work best as a companion piece and it offers an opportunity to see Mark Lanegan’s most impressive album through entirely different eyes. 7

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