It doesn’t take long into the Afghan Whigs’ recent record, “In Spades,” to realize the band is veering toward some uncharted territory. The first song, “Birdland,” features singer-songwriter Greg Dulli free-associating hypnotic lyrics in a tremulous voice over an ominous, atmospheric track more fitting for a soundtrack to a David Lynch film than an urgently rocking, soul-infused Whigs album.
In fact, the Whigs sound like a band in transition throughout the set that clocks in under 40 minutes and relies on a more textured, sophisticated sonic approach than any of the group’s previous works. With its extensive horns, strings, mellotron, and harmonium augmenting the richly designed guitar work, the record probably has more in common with Dulli’s side band the Twilight Singers. But the album — the band’s last with guitarist Dave Rosser, who passed away at 50 from colon cancer in June — presents this incarnation of the Whigs in their finest light.
While Dulli’s conflicted narrators, with their sexual compulsions and obsessive feelings of retribution and anger, still sound like men who have shuffled through different circles of Dante’s Inferno, the songwriter has streamlined his dense lyrics, relying more on economy and musicality. In short, while the music is as passionate and compelling as ever, this is definitely not your older brother’s version of the Afghan Whigs. It’s also a major step forward after 2014’s uneven “Do to the Beast,” their first effort after a 10-year hiatus.
“Every record that I’ve made has been different than the one before it. I think it’s an unconscious reaction to not doing what you did before,” Dulli says via phone recently. “This record is the shortest one I’ve ever made with the shortest songs. There was no conscious decision to do that, it just worked out that way. As I began to gather the material, I became aware of that and enjoyed it.”
Dulli and the current group, which includes guitarist and former Bostonian Jon Skibic and bassist John Curley (the only other original Whig), also took a vastly different approach to recording the songs. “Eight of the 10 songs were made by the band standing together in a circle in the studio. It’s essentially live, and it gave it an emotional lift insomuch as we were all there, instead of people coming in and doing a part here and there — cobbling it together,” Dulli says. “I really feel the experience benefited from the immediacy.”
As fans familiar with Dulli’s darkly literary songs would expect, the Cincinnati native is extremely thoughtful and articulate in conversation, as when he discusses the album’s lyrics, which are open for interpretation thanks to a heavy reliance on compression and often elusive allusions (“Throw a spider on the corner of a dance floor/ And a body on the sister with her head down/ If it’s quiet on the corner/ Give ’em three-part harmony/ Ole.”)
“I enjoyed the economy of the lyrics. I was able to say more with less,” he says. “I really relied on phonetic sounds and cadence. I would do scratch vocals over an arrangement in order to find the melody. Instead of me trying to squeeze my prose into the music, I let the music dictate the songs.” He pauses to consider his words. “I’d never done that type of thing before to this extent, and I really enjoyed it. I know I will now probably do it again.”
The record, which struggles with loss and existential despair, was recorded in the shadow of Rosser’s illness. He was a longtime friend of Dulli — they played together in the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins, Dulli’s side project with Mark Lanegan — before joining the reconstituted Whigs in 2013.
Dulli turns pensive when discussing Rosser’s passing and the continuation of the Whigs’ tour after his death. “The first leg of this tour . . . ended about 10 days before Dave passed away. That leg was really hard because we were far away, and he was beginning to die.
“I saw him about six days before he passed away and thankfully got back in time to see him. And going out this last time after Dave’s suffering was over, it was very bittersweet. It’s been very hard, but we are out celebrating his life and our experiencing him in our lives.”
Dulli emphasizes that the current tour, which stops at the Paradise on Thursday, will accent some of the music he made with his friend as well as songs from favorite Whigs records, including their masterworks “Gentlemen” (1993) and “Black Love” (1996). “We are playing songs from all the albums and Twilight Singers songs too. We are celebrating this record we made with Dave, so we play a lot from it.”
The Whigs are already at work on their next album, but the prolific Dulli, 52, has adopted a new attitude to the creative process.
“Doing this becomes emotionally exhausting. When I was writing ‘Do to the Beast,’ I burned the candle down. I wrote that album really fast and pushed to have it out at a certain time and ran myself ragged in a way that after it was done, I promised myself I would never do it again. And that’s why with this record, I gave myself some time to live life and not just be beholden to strict deadlines. I learned my lesson, and I’m a better person for it.”
While he believes there will be another Twilight Singers record, he’s not offering guarantees. “I have no idea what I’m going to do later this afternoon, so I can’t predict the future,” he says with a laugh. “I’m open to it, so I think it will happen.”
‘Every record that I’ve made has been different than the one before it. I think it’s an unconscious reaction to not doing what you did before.’
Two things Dulli is quite certain about are his artistic purpose and the way his career has evolved. “I have fulfilled and continue to fulfill what my goals were from the beginning — to write songs and go out and play them for people. I’ve been doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager — expressing myself and connecting. That is a beautiful thing.”
The Afghan Whigs
At the Paradise Rock Club, Thursday at 9 p.m. Tickets $33, www.ticketmaster.comKen Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.