With Depeche Mode, frontman Dave Gahan's haunting baritone often provides the human touch within songwriter Martin Gore's icy electronic tableaus. With Soulsavers — a British production duo known for its gospel-inflected, organic sound — the singer has room to grow into something more. Angels & Ghosts is the second album Gahan has recorded with the group, after 2012's dark, bluesy The Light the Dead See. Prior to that, the producers worked with a who's who of underground heroes — husky-voiced grunge vet Mark Lanegan, vocal contortionist Mike Patton and sensitive folk singer Will Oldham, among others — but they stumbled on a unique foil with the Depeche Mode singer. And while The Light the Dead See was very much a transitional record, this album is where Soulsavers and Gahan hit their stride.
From the uncharacteristically hopeful verses Gahan penned for opening track "Shine" ("When you look around, it's so profound what we can do") through to the similarly optimistic album closer "My Sun," this album evokes a litany of moods between depression and confidence. Tracks like the piano ballad "One Thing" and the shuffling "You Owe Me" find the singer settling into the role of a modern crooner. On the densely textured single "All of This and Nothing" and the brittle "Don't Cry," which benefits from some Rowland S. Howard-like guitar soundscapes and transcendent backup vocals, the group approximates Gahan sitting in with Nick Cave's Bad Seeds. It's more organic-sounding than anything the vocalist has recorded with Depeche Mode, even as his voice serves as a through-line back to that group's rockier singles, like 1993's "I Feel You."
The reason Angels & Ghosts works, though, is because Gahan and Soulsavers sound like a band. The producers are at their best when they craft tasteful orchestral arrangements that recall Burt Bacharach and Leonard Cohen, while the singer, who has come into his own as a songwriter only in the last decade, embraces hope as much as sentimentality. The schmaltz only sometimes gets the better of them ("The Last Time" drags after the somber "Lately"). Gahan has always sounded like a complex individual with Depeche Mode, but on this set, he sounds set free.