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In the credits for Garden Of Ashes, Duke Garwood thanks “my soul brother Mark Lanegan for his friendship and inspiration”, and it’s not hard to see why. The pair, who first collaborated on 2013’s Black Pudding, seem to be merging together artistically, though it’s an aesthetic affinity that goes deeper than sound, as both men strive to map the darkness of the soul.
In this instance, Garwood describes Garden Of Ashes as “beautiful apocalypse love music”, for lovers walking through the remains of an Eden razed by corporate greed and rapacity. The track itself is one of the loveliest here, developing a relaxed but compelling groove of quiet, wave-like drums spattered with trilling, mandolin-like guitar. Throughout the album, the tempi are slower than slow, rarely more than a stroll (if “Hard Dreams” were any slower, it would be in reverse), as Garwood forces the listener to adopt his pace – a sort of aural equivalent of the “slow food” movement.
But it works: ”Coldblooded” opens the album with a slinky swamp-blues groove of cyclical, arpeggiated guitar figures, earthy percussion and haunting, wordless backing vocals that bring to mind Dr John’s Gris-Gris, an ambience that sucks one into Garwood’s song about “good gone bad”. “Gold shine in the sun / Nothing but metal in the dark,” he muses, his baritone murmur a simulacrum of Lanegan’s. And it’s clear which side of that divide he’s stranded: “It’s like the sun moved to a better world,” he frets in “Sonny Boogie”, trying to sweeten the darkness with a more than usually melodic croon, as tendrils of backwards guitar gradually ensnare the song.
Save for the acoustic lullaby “Sleep”, the songs mostly feature variations of the same approach, performed in extempore manner, as if busked in the moment: achingly slow tom-tom pulses, and subtle striations of distorted guitars, occasional ghostly backing vocals by the Smoke Fairies, and Garwood’s deep, foreboding baritone, all captured in a remarkable mix (by Lanegan and Alain Johnannes) which conveys cavernous ambient depth despite every element being so upfront they almost crowd the listener. It’s perfect for lyrics that ponder the apocalypse so poetically: “Dust rises like a flock of angels”, he notes at one point; at another, “The silence will break like a thousand tears / Drinking all our futures in”. And when that happens, this would be as good a soundtrack as any.