Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Black Angels

written by kojak
photography by mike gualdoni

"You ever heard of The Black Angels?" said the cool-as-fuck dude behind the counter at the liquor store down the street.  This was probably 2 or 3 years ago.  I hadn't.  We had quickly built up a musical trust with one another over the previous months, talking tunes and offering suggestions, so my mind was wide open to his recommendation. "Oh, shit, man... you'll love it!  Take these right now and go dump em in your computer."  He handed me their first three albums: Passover, Directions to See a Ghost, and Phosphene Dream (from '06, '08, and '10 respectively).  I knew straight away he was right, that i would indeed love these, as i held the beautiful, embossed Op Art cd digipaks in my hands.  Any band that puts that kind of care into their album art is alright in my book. And, sure enough, the music was fucking awesome.  Every single note of it. The Angels were so far up my alley it hurt.  I felt like a dumbass for dropping the ball and missing out all of those years, but oh well.  Can't win every time.  

It's pretty easy to know if The Black Angels are something that you might be into.  They are unashamed about their musical influences, wearing them right there on their sleeve like a badge of honor.  their inspiration starts from the early 60's British Invasion and into the legendary Austin proto-garage-psych scene, though Bill Graham's Fillmore West and the Haight-Ashbury, continues on to the art damaged Warhol drone of the Velvet Underground, and stops suddenly at the hippie's last stand at Altamont.  All of the glam and prog excesses that define the 70's are non-existent here, and there is absolutely no hint that the 80's ever even existed when listening to The Angels. Instead, they have been steadily building upon the foundation those original bands laid down 45+ years ago and have given it a new twist.  Their following has been steadily growing, and with the recent release of their new album Indigo Meadow, they seem poised for breakout success.  And as their once small, handmade hometown Austin Psych Fest reached an entirely new level of acclaim in it's 6th year back in April, The Black Angel's reputation as international tastemakers and leaders of the new psychedelic movement in music and art has been solidified.  If you have not climbed on board yet, it's time you do.

PASSOVER (2006 Light in the Attic Records) and DIRECTIONS TO SEE A GHOST (2008 Light in the Attic Records)

I consider Passover and Directions to be Side A and Side B of one record spread out over a couple years. The Black Angels mine the deep well of sounds from The Doors and The Velvet Underground on both of these albums, and somehow pull it all off without being derivative.  A perfect guitar note hangs infinitely in the air, wrapped up in thick blankets of fuzz and reverb, that one note sometimes repeated  by 2 or 3 guitars, and pushes the atmosphere out of the way and fills the room. Monotone bass and organ merges with Mo Tucker-style tribal drum poundings, always keeping a plodding war march over a constantly rolling landscape.  the vocals sound like Jim Morrison and Grace Slick's Summer of Love child.  there are no extraneous guitar solos, or off-kilter drum timings, this is all very straight forward and stripped to its core... it's more about The Note or The Vibration than it is about The Riff.  this is music that keeps your body moving while your mind spins out into another dimension.  good stuff.

PHOSPHENE DREAM (2010 Blue Horizon Records)

Phosphene Dream builds upon and expands out past the first albums.  there is less molecular-merging-with-the-furniture drone and more psychedelic pop with traditional structure and a wider scope of sounds and riffs.  the earlier monochromatic mood is replaced with a far sunnier sound.  there are stronger melodies and hooks as actual songs begin to materialize out of the haze, thanks in large part to producer D. Sardy.   

INDIGO MEADOW (2013 Blue Horizon Records)

their tightest and most concise album yet.  there are huge, arena-sized sounds at times, and they flirt with discordance as often as they allow a continuous trance to gain momentum.  these are their quirkiest songs to date, and they have more anxiety in them than at any time prior.  the production is beautiful, and the band sounds ready to turn as many people as possible onto their sound.

here are a couple of EP's the Black Angels have put out.  i'm not familiar with them enough to write anything about them just yet.

NOTE: these have been removed from youtube. if they pop up again i will link them up.

The Black Angels have been consistently known as a phenomenal live act, and having recently caught them twice, once at the Austin Psych Fest and a couple of weeks later in a bar in St. Louis, i can attest to that. Their sound was far too large to be played in such an intimate venue like the Firebird, but i'm not going to complain. With the band and their plain white backdrop painted with a kaleidoscope of projected colors and patterns, they tore through a nearly two hour set that reached into their entire catalog. All of the band members (except the drummer) traded instruments several times throughout the show, switching off on guitars and bass and organ. And they sounded absolutely fucking great, from the first note to the last. i look forward to seeing them again soon.

and here's a few videos.

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