Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe — album review

Dark Mark vs Skeleton Joe

Featuring Mark Lanegan and Joe Cardamone

(Rare Bird/Kitten Robot Records)


15 October 2021

Unassailable beauty woven amidst the beats of precarious existence. These are sad, sad songs to dance to.

Mark Lanegan and Joe Cardamone have a new self-titled, full-length album under their respective monikers, Dark Mark and Skeleton Joe. Like the title suggests, Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe is an album of paradoxes, but it’s not the adversarial duel you might be imagining. Pulsating dance beats that seem to call us from our seats are made strange by arresting lyrics and vocals that speak to our shared human fragility. We can dance, but there’s only so much time to do it. The first track, Living Dead, speaks to the contradictions at work across the record: like zombies, the fast-paced and thunderous synths become manifestations of loss that reveal themselves slowly amidst this album. Living Dead lays the foundation for Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe, letting us revel in our precarity.

Rather than the two musicians facing off against one another, their distinctive approaches produce a new kind of harmony. Joe Cardamone’s richly textured and pulsating electronic sounds illumine Mark Lanegan’s devastating voice, affecting even the most jaded listener. In seemingly inexplicable ways, the collaboration grapples with our shared untetheredness to this world. In both notes and lyrics, the songs dwell in liminality: resounding synths and drum tracks personify hearts still beating yet greeting loss. The tracks No Justice and Skeleton Joe Manifesto perhaps reflect this dichotomy best. Lyrics in Crime, too, depict a figure on a precipice between life and death: “I pull the pin/ on this hand grenade.”

Dark Mark Skeleton Joe sleeveThe repetition of sonic elements echoes through the verses, setting up another brilliant paradox. These are songs that pull us in and snare us while also letting us go. The lyrics in Basement Door reflect a trope running across the album: “I have been free/ I have been caged.” The looping synth notes in Lay Me Down, No Way Out, Sanctified, and Traction are trance-like, enticing us to be entombed within a single song. Yet they’re tempered by heartrending words and softened resonances in so many of the surrounding tracks like Hiraeth, Cold Summer, and Sunday Night 230 AM.

In many ways, Hiraeth feels like the centerpiece of Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe. The title alone reminds us that some sentiments simply cannot be rendered in the English language. The deepness of longing contained in that Welsh word, hiraeth (pronounced ‘here-eyeth’), can only be conveyed through sound. That kind of dazzling yet brutal beauty that emerges on previous albums like Straight Songs of Sorrow emanates from Hiraeth. Subtle and strangely uncanny organ notes create an atmosphere of reverence that’s reflected in the lyrics: “An angelic vision/ but still just flesh and blood/ and you only live this once.” The album comes back to the meaning of hiraeth as the subsequent song Traction draws to a close with the words, “trying to find a way home.”

Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe comes full circle in the final two songs, Sunday Night 230 AM and Basement Door, reminding us of the spectral and deathly knowledge that resonates constantly among the living. It’s here that those aural paradoxes—so striking at the start of the record—return as airy, otherworldly synth notes contrast with low-octave piano keys. The phantom figure that emerges in these tracks sings ghost songs:

“I’m gonna have to wander/ All the rest of my days/ All the rest of my days/ After midnight/ Long after midnight/ There’s a darkness all over/ All over this world”

“Now I have a debt to pay/ Before I leave from here/ What I had to give the world holds no value anymore/ I will leave this ugly place through the basement door/ Yes, I will leave this dismal place out through the basement door”

Across the album, the collaborative work radiates. It’s as if Mark Lanegan and Joe Cardamone have found both sonic and linguistic ways to enter into dialogues that would otherwise seem impossible. And they’re exquisite. This is dark and ethereal experimentation at its best.

Order Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe from Rare Bird here. You can find Mark Lanegan on Twitter and his website. Joe Cardamone is on Twitter and Instagram.


Words by Audrey J. Golden. You can follow Audrey on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

Previous articleMarissa Nadler: The Path Of The Clouds – album review
Next articleWitch Of The East: Savage Beauty – album review
When Audrey isn't writing about music, books, and cinema for Louder Than War, she's an academic working on literature and cultural history. Lover of punk, post-punk, and any synth-heavy sounds. She's based in New York and Boston.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here