As far as production duos go, Soulsavers feel pretty unique. With past work including remixes for the Doves and Starsailor, a fair smattering of collaborations including work with Richard Hawley, and one of their songs appearing on Grey’s Anatomy in 2007, it’s far to say their existence is one of much variety. But from variety oft springs the most intoxicatingly fascinating results, and teaming up with Depeche Mode legend Dave Gahan to provide lead vocals for the entirety of your new album is about as brilliant as you can go when plotting the course of your latest studio effort.
And new album The Light The Dead See is nothing if not fascinating. With Gahan in the driver’s seat, the record feels purposed with a profound elegance that shines through in the beautiful gospel overtones of Just Try or the languid, Western tinged expanse of blankness in Bitterman. There’s that gaping sense of isolation, like a lonely soul, lost adrift in endless miles and miles of desert.
It’s fascinating to see Gahan outside his usual darkly seductive synth-pop Depeche setting, though in many ways he brings so much of the gravity and gospel-like malevolence of his band that the results with Soulsavers are often sonically rather similar on a wider scale, just with electronics replaced with delicately plucked guitar and surging sweeps of brass.
In some of its more introspective moments, like Gone Too Far, there’s a sort of Doors-y blue-jean vibe; the openness of the American highway, again so indicative of the way Depeche Mode were always so much more than just the synth blokes from Essex, but a band to be fully embraced by every aspect of the world market. Two minutes in, Gone Too Far explodes into a medley of grinding percussion and Gahan’s vocals are set to full-pelt, crying out as if with his last breath. It’s staggering, breath-catching stuff and long-time Depeche fan that I am, there’s moments when I’m still amazed at just how good Gahan’s voice is – all the more impressive when you consider his near flirtation with drugs and death in the 90s. Moments like the epiphanial Presence of God touch and caress like some angelic host force, all string-swept magnificence.
And crucially, the album is more than just an explorative ‘production’ effort – it is every inch the ‘proper’ LP – a real body of work to sink your teeth into. It flows with sublime ease from track to track, an unfurling story of macabre power, and by the time lead single Longest Day kicks in, the theatrical scale and grandeur of the piece as grande-epic is plainly evident. Its envisionment is total, its execution perfectly reasoned, and on every number Soulsavers bring some new element to bear. Even short interlude La Ribera glimmers with spectacle.
Ultimately, and importantly, The Light The Dead See sounds much closer to Gahan’s relatively recent solo effort Hourglass than any Depeche Mode album in particular. Hourglass had that same, world-worn ghostliness to it, a sort of Teutonic bleak aspect that wrapped itself to Gahan’s essence like a tailored suit. And the same occurs here, with the Soulsavers’ richly tapestried production opening up like a book of verse, so often as deeply emotional as Gahan’s vocals. It’s a symbiotic relationship between voice and music, but one where neither party ever becomes overtly, dangerously dominant. If there was one word for The Light The Dead See, it could only ever be ‘sumptuous’ , because quite simply, it is. Employing Gahan’s assets always in the best, most respectful, of ways, it reaps a bounteous plethora of rewards – on paper, the formula seemed fascinating – in actuality, it becomes something far beyond that.
The Light The Dead See is released on the 21st May and can be pre-ordered here.