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Rockin' Our Turntable: Soulsavers

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 18, 2009 6:40PM

2009_08_Soulsavers.jpg Soulsavers is essentially a studio construction built by the duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover. They create deft instrumental tracks that range from industrial scrawl to gospel wail. Their previous album was one of our favorites from 2007 primarily because amidst their meticulously crafted electro-soul rock jams, they employed an incredibly potent secret weapon in guest singer Mark Lanegan's vocals. Lanegan's presence took what would have been an interesting production project and elevated it into something viscerally appealing.

Machin and Glover are no dummies so they invited Lanegan back to handle the majority of the duties on their follow-up, Broken. Only this time they took the more is more approach and enlisted other guest vocalists to compliment Lanegan's scratched baritone and whiskey-honeyed tenor, including Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes, Mike Patton, and Spiritualized's Jason Pierce. The production of Broken often verges on the claustrophobic, so this tactic could have proved disastrous as egos battled for dominance, turning the songs underneath into sludge. Instead, everyone defers to Lanegan as the emotionally grounding presence, and other contributions are gauzy overlays providing subtly tasteful support.

Lanegan dominates the first 3/4 of the disc, all moody atmospherics and continuous tension, when all of a sudden he's momentarily displaced on the gentle "Praying Ground" by the sweet and gentle vocals of Red Ghost, Australian singer Rosa Agostino. It's a brief respite before things start to get seriously creepy on "Rolling Sky" as her vocals veer into a drunken sensuality and combine into a boozy, drifting duet with Lanegan. It's a striking moment, and a canny move that keeps the album off balance and interesting. After the earlier din, and the brief sweet interlude, this song betrays the true heart of Soulsavers to reveal nightmare dreamscapes smeared with kohled eyes, bourbon kisses, and dark redemption. And hope. As closing track "By My Side" intones via Red Ghost's sweetly tired delivery that "you are by my side." We're not sure the "you" is an apparition or an actual companion, but the message is that there's still hope, no matter how dire the surroundings.

It's a dark world, but one worth submerging yourself in.

Broken is out today.

Soulsavers play September 27 at Double Door, 1572 N Milwaukee, 9 p.m., $18, 21+