Reviews for No Bells on Sunday


by Killian Laher

Album review: Mark Lanegan Band | No Bells On Sunday

Mark Lanegan is clearly on a journey. He has travelled some distance from the admittedly excellent heavy classic rock of the Screaming Trees. Where he is headed is anyone’s guess, but if it’s as interesting as this EP, it will be some destination. This set opens with the pulsing, dark electronica of Dry Iced, Lanegan’s deep vocal underpinned by a throbbing beat and sparse, spare keyboard lines. Better still is the title track, a bed of slow, deliberate keyboards pick out a soaring melody that Lanegan just owns.

After two very nocturnally-oriented tracks the EP goes all uptempo on brawny, electronic-tinged rocker Sad Lover before taking a sharp left on Jonas Pap, a throwback to Lanegan’s nineties folk-oriented solo material. The EP finishes with Smokestack Magic, the longest thing here, which builds slowly and gradually without ever really taking off. If this EP is anything to go by, Lanegan’s next full-length Phantom Radio, due out in October, will be worth looking out for.

Echoes and Dust
By Si

After Mark Lanegan preceded his Bubblegum album with the wonderfully bizarre Here Comes That Weird Chill EP back in 2003, the news that his new Phantom Radio record would arrive in the wake of a similar herald is something that rightly created ripples of excitement. As the last time this happened was a way of easing his audience into a somewhat dramatic change of tack, there is a palpable feeling that he’s about to do it again. In this, he does not disappoint, both in terms of direction and quality with a whole extra layer of continuous surprise thrown in.
It’s obvious to latch onto Lanegan’s vocals when describing the music that he makes either under his own name or with a multitude of others, because frankly there’s nobody else about who possesses not only such a voice but also the words to grace such pipes with a charming, sonorous authority. The music he has chosen to bend around his voice this time is what will get tongues wagging, as the traditional band backing has been largely augmented, and in some cases completely replaced by, a host of electronica. The words however continue in his style of being crafted to both fit the music and the mood of whatever song he’s singing, moving gracefully (despite his own protestations to the contrary in Smokestack Magic) from harrowing to upbeat, reflective to plain daft whilst retaining the same heart throughout.

As soon as 'Dry Iced' begins, you just know that you’re about to hear something different. Even for fans initially surprised and warmed up by jaunty lead track 'Sad Lover' (an EP preceded by a single. Technology’s marvellous nowadays, isn’t it?), the crystalline keyboards and sparse guitar will come as something as a surprise. But then that voice appears and disbelief is suspended for the duration of this five track record, so that the listener is perfectly happy to be led through this distinctly odd soundscape, knowing that there’s this familiar presence to guide you through the strange goings-on until you’re absolutely at ease, even (or perhaps especially) when the drumbeat kicks in after a minute and a half, shattering all preconceptions of what a Mark Lanegan song should sound like. Maybe the most curious thing about this EP is just how effortless it is to lose yourself in this new world of his.
It’s not entirely alien either, as the aforementioned 'Sad Lover’s' upper-register vocals, speedy pace and cute psychedelic touches remind me of very old Screaming Trees, albeit married to a playful post-punk bassline and motorik drumbeat, while the astonishing title track (a career highlight) carries calming memories of Blues Funeral’s 'Phantasmagoria Blues' within the chilled keyboard washes and tones that feels like it’s floating on the same base layers that 'Dayvan Cowboy' shares.
The strangest part of the EP appears when the guitar finally takes brief centre stage for 'Jonas Pap', a string-laden ditty about the Dutch cellist who accompanied Mark’s Imitations tour, and which can only be described as a bit silly, and endearingly so as he sings about Pap being “sloppy with his drink and his Christmas cap”.
The thing that most resonates after the EP closes with the eight minute death-disco of 'Smokestack Magic', is that this is, by his own admission, a collection of songs “too goofy” to appear on Phantom Radio. That he can set the bar so high with these bodes well for the full album in October, as well as making everyone wonder just what on Earth is going to happen within those grooves, as No Bells On Sunday shatters and reinvents everything around him with such ease and comfort, sounding for all the world as if this was how his music has always sounded.
As a preview to future endeavours, No Bells On Sunday is a tantalising introduction to God knows what may appear over the horizon. As a standalone record, it’s frighteningly good and instantly memorable. As part of Mark Lanegan’s ever-surprising career, it fits perfectly and sets up yet another chapter.

Alternative Nation
by Paul Kneitz

Alternative Nation Review: Mark Lanegan's 'No Bells on Sunday' EP
Ahead of his upcoming album Phantom Radio, Mark Lanegan debuted a limited edition, vinyl-only EP No Bells on Sunday. The album, which was released in July in North America via Vagrant and this week in the UK and Europe via Heavenly, serves as a teaser for the full-length LP coming this fall.

Lanegan’s recent Phantom Radio recording sessions with friend and collaborator Alain Johannes proved to be particularly fruitful. Rather than discarding the unused songs, Lanegan prepared a five-track EP containing songs he has described as “too goofy” for the full-length. No Bells on Sunday acts as a teaser album similar in vein to his Bubblegum preview Here Comes That Weird Chill in 2004.

Although these songs didn’t make it on Phantom Radio, in no way are they inferior or particularly unusual. Beginning with the spectacular, six-minute, electro-tinged “Dry Iced,” Lanegan laments “I’m sorry” numerous times with a Reznor-esque driving beat. This is followed by the title track, structured like a traditional Lanegan song with bluesy lyricism among atmospheric synths.

“Sad Lover” was premiered mid-July as the EP’s only single and is a throwback to the singer’s beginnings in the Screaming Trees. The upbeat rock tune balances Krautrock and psychedelia in an addicting way. Mark Lanegan remarked in a press release: “although the Trees drew on Nuggets psychedelia, 13th Floor Elevators and Love, we were actually listening to Echo And The Bunnymen, Rain Parade, the Gun Club. A lot of British post-punk. We loved that stuff. I just waited until I was in my late forties before I started ripping it off.”

Lanegan’s “goofy” remark rings true with the playful “Jonas Pap,” during which the songwriter repeats lyrics such as “hey now, everybody listen to the song of Pap” and “he ain’t no sucker, he ain’t no sap.” It’s not the finest track in the Lanegan discography, but an upside is the beautiful string arrangement. No Bells on Sunday ends on a fantastic note with the dark beauty of the ambient, haunting “Smokestack Magic.” The epic eight-minute track is similar to Blues Funeral‘s equally long “Tiny Grain of Truth,” with poetic lyricism and mysterious instrumentals pulling equal weight.

No Bells on Sunday serves a strong preview album for this October’s full-length LP, with its five tracks balancing their electronic-tinged sound and Lanegan’s mournful songwriting. The singer-songwriter’s albums this year are the follow-ups to 2012’s Blues Funeral and they continue in their predecessor’s electronic and Krautrock edge, adding in a lighter, ’80s new wave-inspired element to the mix.

Silent Radio
by Steve Gilliver

Mark Lanegan Band - No Bells on Sunday

For anyone who doesn’t know who Mark Lanegan is, (you’re an idiot) he co-wrote Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘No One Knows’, one of the best rock songs of the noughties. And that’s just one of a myriad of activities he has undertaken since his Seattle rock band Screaming Trees petered out.
Indeed, it’s hard to keep up with Lanegan’s various music ventures. He rivals Jack White in terms of output and variety of collaborations. And quality. For now though he is operating as the Mark Lanegan Band, whose last release was the excellent Blues Funeral album from 2012. Like most of his work, it was largely overlooked. Question: QOTSA aside, why have I scarcely heard a Mark Lanegan song on BBC 6 Music?
The five tracks that comprise the No Bells On Sunday EP represent something of a tangent from Lanegan’s more usual bluesy rock sound. With its thumping beat and electro effects, opener ‘Dry Iced’ takes its cue from the similarly dancy Blues Funeral album track ‘Ode To Sad Disco’, which sounded like it could have been written by Moby and surprised a few people on its release. Elsewhere, ‘Sad Lover’ is a driving rock-dance hybrid.
The best thing here is the memorable title track, which is pure chill out brilliance. Less good is the mournful and slightly dull ‘Jonas Pap’, the tale of a “maniac” and “brave man”. It’s surely not about the (semi-)famous cellist of the same name. Or is it? Either way, it’s only a blip: closer ‘Smokestack Magic’ is a sprawling, dark epic, Lanegan growling over a flowing mix of processed sounds. It clocks in at 8 plus minutes but does not drag.
Throughout this EP, Lanegan’s weathered voice is as arresting as ever, sounding every bit as good as it did 15 years ago. Like Leonard Cohen’s, one suspects that it will only get better with age.
A new full album, Phantom Radio, will be released in the autumn. If we are to assume that Lanegan has not used up all his best songs here, that album is going to be well worth a listen.

by James Hopkin

No Bells on Sunday EP Review

Mark Lanegan's extensive career has seen him front the grunge icons Screaming Trees, work alongside such artists as Isobel Campbell of Belle & Sebastian and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, whilst steadily adding to his already impressive body of solo work. This exposure to and involvement in various corners of the musical world is evident on Lanegan's latest EP 'No Bells On Sunday' as elements of electronica and instrumental experimentation, which haven't been as prominent on previous releases, are pushed to the foreground.

Opening track 'Dry Iced' layers a stuttering sequencer on top of wavering drones before Lanegan's instantly recognisable vocals enter the mix. Hypnotic lyrics such as 'dreaming, ceaselessly dreaming, and not asleep' lie on top of the repetitive melody and 4/4 drumbeat, Lanegan's organic drawl merging effortlessly with the synthesised instrumentation. The title track, 'No Bells On Sunday', goes on in a similar fashion as an ambient chord progression pulses religiously throughout, bringing to mind the down-tempo electronica of Lemon Jelly or Massive Attack.
As the EP begins to feel as if it is in danger of being dominated by overproduced, melancholic electronica, third track 'Sad Lover' instils some much needed energy into the mix. An insistent two chord bassline, much like the fuzzy space rock of Moon Duo, sets a psychedelic backdrop for Lanegan's vocal and is a welcome return to a traditional Lanegan sound. Throughout the EP, Lanegan speaks of darkness and dreams in his usual understated style, yet the banjo led fourth track 'Jonas Pap' offers two minutes of particularly uninspiring lyrics and disposable instrumentation; both of which are highly uncharacteristic of Mark Lanegan.
The final track, 'Smokestick Magic', is an eight minute ethereal piece in which moans of 'I heard the voice of Jesus Christ' combine with industrial synth loops and expansive background chords, closing the EP the way it began; in a haunting and experimental fashion.
Although aspects of certain tracks cause the EP to lack an overall unity, 'No Bells On Sunday' sees Mark Lanegan incorporate new styles of instrumentation whilst retaining his immediately recognisable brooding vocal style. His upcoming album 'Phantom Radio' is looking like an exciting and highly intriguing prospect.

by Lincoln Eddy

Mark Lanegan’s next solo LP is coming later this fall, but for now our appetites are whet by the excellent No Bells on Sunday. A tour of melancholia and genre, it backs it all up with the undeniable skill of Lanegan himself.

Looking at Lanegan’s catalog and his history in groups such as Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, listeners have every right to expect the kind of versatility on display here. Tracks like “Dry Iced” and “No Bells on Sunday” play like a 1960s-science-fiction author’s idea of what lounge singers 30 years down the road might sound like, as electronic drums and keys drive with just the right amount of energy, never overpowering Lanegan’s everyman croon. Opposing this is “Jonas Pap,” a drunken paean to an everyday hero, featuring a key change that utterly transforms the feel of the song.

With epic bookends, No Bells on Sunday pushes against the constraints that those two letters, EP, put on a record. This is fully realized music.

Hit the Floor
by Jamie Firby

Spanning four decades, releasing eight studio albums to his name and collaborating with everyone from Queens of the Stoneage to pre-Nevermind Kurt Cobain, it would be unfair to describe Mark Lanegan’s incredible career as anything but illustrious. With such an immense body of work you would be forgiven for wondering whether Lanegan had any creativity left in him – but his latest EP, No Bells On Sunday, proves not only that he does, but quite a lot of it.
The 5-track affair starts off in remarkable fashion with the six-minute long Dryed Ice. Mark Lanegan’s vocals are centrepiece, as he broods “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” in a hushed voice, sounding almost ethereal over the atmospheric instrumentals.
Dryed Ice then leads into the similar, slow, and ambient – albeit slightly less good – title track which continues the atmosphere and stellar quality of the EP thus far. This quiet atmosphere, however, is quickly dispensed with when lead single (and EP highlight) Sad Lover stomps in.
Sad Lover is where No Bells On Sunday reaches its peak, with its pounding drums and melancholy-yet-triumphant (and extremely frigging catchy) vocal hook. It juxtaposes the previous songs – its fast, it’s loud, and it’s very fun. Unfortunately, though, No Bells On Sunday reaches its climax with Sad Lover, and the two songs afterwards fall distinctly short of its immense heights.
Jonas Pap stops the momentum of the previous three songs dead, sounding almost cliché and corny in its attempt to sound traditional, and whilst Smokestack Magic isn’t necessarily a bad song it feels like a disappointing way to end the EP.
Ultimately, these two songs drag out an otherwise impeccable set of tracks, but this shouldn’t put you off. Sad Lover and Dryed Ice would be remarkable if they were put out by any artist – not to mention someone who’s been in the game 30 years.

The Line of Best Fit
By Luke Cartledge

For a man whose voice is so instantly recognisable, whose phrasing and lyrical styles are so identifiable as utterly his own, Mark Lanegan has done an admirable job of avoiding easy categorisation over his thirty-year career. His impressive body of work has covered everything from desert-baked stoner rock to breathy, folk-tinged indie pop, and now, on new EP No Bells on Sunday (a precursor to new LP due this autumn), he adds dreamy hints of electro to the more familiar elements of his sound.

Opener “Dry Iced” begins in an atmospheric, considered fashion, yet soon evolves into a disarmingly bouncy number, all four-on-the-floor drums and billowing synth pads. Lanegan’s voice remains as darkly stately as always, but he uses his inimitable baritone sparingly, casting surprisingly delicate strands of melody over the lush instrumentation. It works beautifully.

The song that follows, the EP’s title track, is even better. A sombre, graceful cousin of Lanegan-featuring Queens Of The Stone Age track “In the Fade”, its simple, lilting vocal melodies, funeral-march rhythms and windswept synth breaks combine to fabulous effect. The introspective spell that this song casts is broken bullishly by its successor, “Sad Lover”, a more straightforward slice of electro-informed rock vaguely reminiscent of TV on the Radio’s more propulsive moments.

Fourth track “Jonas Pap” is a fleeting change of direction, two and a half gentle minutes of pretty, melancholic folk augmented by a swooning string arrangement.

“Smokestack Magic” closes the EP in ambitious style, with Lanegan exploring the full extent of his deceptively wide vocal range as layers of heavily distorted guitars, doomy synths and jittery percussion pinwheel energetically around the focal point his voice provides. This final cut goes on for over eight minutes, yet each impassioned phrase Lanegan utters feels vital.

This EP signifies an extremely successful attempt on Lanegan’s behalf to keep his career moving, to resist the onset of the kind of complacency that would actually be perfectly understandable for a man who has managed to maintain such an enviably well-respected position in the alternative rock scene for three decades now. If his forthcoming full-length is as consistently superb as this EP, it could be one of the albums of the year.

Consequence of Sound
By Matt Melis

Mark Lanegan doesn’t exactly want for studio work. Since his last album under the Mark Lanegan Band moniker, 2012’s Blues Funeral, the former Screaming Trees frontman has recorded a full-length with English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood (Black Pudding), delivered his second covers album (Imitations), compiled a career-spanning solo retrospective (Has God Seen My Shadow?), left an Xmas EP under the tree (Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012), and collaborated on singles with Moby and Warpaint. Lanegan prefers to keep busy, a habit that consistently steers him toward new contexts and textures to underpin his signature baritone. On the five-song No Bells on Sunday EP, he continues to tinker with and master the electronic arrangements that revitalized his patented dead-slow rock on Blues Funeral.

As on that album, Lanegan’s primary challenge remains negotiating the balance between instrumental stretches and vocals — not always discerning between when his silence creates tension and when it causes the track to bloat or lull. Opener “Dry Iced”, for instance, may pit a sleepless Lanegan “aimlessly walking” through dark environs, but there’s a steady drive as he’s “speeding in a long, black car from here to Babylon.” Though, by the time his voice returns after a tedious, 75-second mid-song cycling of beats, listeners might suspect that Lanegan spent that downtime pulled over asleep rather than accelerating toward his destination and the song’s climax. The title track — complete with the sublime line “the blown-glass setting sun weeps electric light”– skirts a similar fate, its extensive synth passages acting as the unspoken, plaintive ruminations between utterances. One formula, two polar results. Maybe there’s no hard rule for what Lanegan’s attempting here, but his instincts aren’t fully refined yet either.

That said, when he gets it right, he pulls off some of the best work of his career. Single “Sad Lover” runs white-hot like “Quiver Syndrome” off Blues Funeral, Lanegan’s vocals sanded down in relief and flanked by metallic drumming, rallying guitar, and what sounds like castrated bagpipes. Better still is “Smokestack Magic”, an eight-minute build, explode, and dissolve that finds Lanegan growling up front over Korova Milk Bar vibes one moment and summoning in the background like a séance leader the next over a rapid beat, ghostly synths, and throat-lodged horns. And to think this guy used to croon folkish songs over acoustic strums. By the time “Smokestack Magic” finally dissipates into the evening air, listeners will already be anticipating Lanegan’s upcoming Phantom Radio LP. Yeah, that’s right. He’s got a full-length ready to go. No idle hands for Dark Mark.

Essential Tracks: “Smokestack Magic”, “Sad Lover”