The Black Angels
, September 20th, 2010 13:32
For all the influence they take from a host of 60s bands, 'psychedelic' groups like Wooden Shjips, A Place To Bury Strangers, Dead Meadow and even The Warlocks have always had something distinctly futuristic about them; something evoking a psychological stupor brought on by a kind of sonic apocalypse. Austin's Black Angels have never really bought into that, preferring to root themselves in a sound exclusively inspired by subterranean rock from that hippy era.
What's more, compared with the hazy, stoned vibe that characterises some of their psych contemporaries, The Angels have always seemed much more awake, aware and energetic – perhaps because of both their impassioned politicking, as well as the cascading and dramatic vocals of singer Alex Maas.
Their third album keeps that up while at the same time embracing more melody than the first two, which were so similar in their thunderous, repetitive rock that they might have been from the same sessions. Phosphene Dream is therefore a notable evolution for the five-piece, with greater exploration of verses, choruses, hooks and even hints of R&B circa 1965. There's been a pruning too, at a mere 35 minutes long this is half the length of 2008's Directions To See A Ghost. No excess jamming to be found here.
That said, the organ and bass-driven clatter of first track 'Bad Vibrations' hardly suggests a departure from The Black Angels' past. It's not until third piece 'Yellow Elevator' that the scope of the Angels' expanded vision becomes clear. This remarkable number swaggers in with an initial burst reminiscent of the Doors and early Velvet Underground, before eventually settling down with a slow-building, monotonous incantation that sees the song out. 'Yellow Elevator' truly lifts the album into life.
The darkness of previous albums hasn't entirely deserted The Black Angels however, with the title track and 'River Of Blood' both menacing, one-dimensional and attractively concise. Ultimately, however, the new tendencies takes over, with 'Telephone' evoking all of the Rolling Stones on Aftermath, the Grateful Dead's eponymous first album, and even the more raggedy R&B efforts of early Beatles.
Upon hearing Phosphene Dream, some will fancy that the Black Angels have wilfully strayed into a field already successfully ploughed by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and that they have forsaken the unique niche they had carved out for themselves. Perhaps it's healthier though, to believe they have taken influence from bands like fellow Austin dwellers The Strange Boys, Woods or Darker My Love. Then again, The Black Angels don't really seem interested in any musical trend that occurred after 1970.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves – this is hardly a complete about-turn. The spine of the band's spooky and moody sound is still here, it is just a spine that is now proven to be as flexible as it is indestructible.