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Monday, May 14, 2007

Black Angels Carry Flame of Texas Psych

Reposted from Relix Magazine
Written by Rebecca Carter

Caverns of swirling light patterns cast flickering shadows as they envelop the band onstage. The members move hypnotically with the pulsing wall of sound they create as the frontman paces, tambourine in hand, drifting toward the microphone. The room is filled with an anxious melancholy reminiscent of the early days of The Velvet Underground, but this dark psychedelic scene is courtesy of The Black Angels.

Formed in 2004, The Black Angels are, amongst such contemporaries as Vietnam and The Secret Machines, part of a post-psychedelic revival which has become re-envisioned as the new underground. Singer Alex Maas first began playing with guitarist Christian Bland in a group called The Black and Green Scarecrows and decided to start a new band that better expressed the sound both were searching for. Together with drummer Stephanie Bailey, keyboard player Kyle Hunt, organist Jennifer Raines and bass player Nate Ryan, The Black Angels were formed. Drawing inspiration from a ranges of sources, including Pink Floyd, The Doors, Clinic and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Angels grew out of the Austin, Texas rock scene. Once associated with the rawer side of country, the Austin scene has evolved into a launching pad for artists of all genres.

“We were playing around town like once or twice a month,” explains Maas. “Austin has so much music you can play two or three times a month there and it doesn’t really hurt you. There’s just so much going on.” After developing a following in Austin, The Black Angels decided it was time to tour and, following the release of an EP and European single, their first album Passover debuted, appropriately, in April of 2006.

Passover’s echoing vocals and trippy instrumentation capture a somber tone. “There’s definitely the idea of fear and paranoia… I don’t know where that came from,” laughs Maas. “My parents grew up in the Cold War so that was just a theme throughout the house: fear of nuclear attack or fear of God’s hand striking you down.”

But Passover is not entirely despondent and, in true psychedelic form, the themes of alienation are more of a dramatic device. And they work—drawing the listener in and creating something rare in the current soundscape: an album that is best appreciated when heard from beginning to end.

Much like The Black Angels’ predecessors of the ‘60s, the band mixes the raw qualities of Delta blues with droning experimentation, most notably on the songs “Manipulation” and “Bloodhounds on My Trail.” The standout track, “The First Vietnamese War,” which was also released as a single, begs the question: Why would a band that already evokes so much of the 1960s’ spirit go so far as to write a song about the Vietnam War, especially when current times provide plenty of fodder for antiwar material?

Although songs like “Young Men Dead” and “Call to Arms” share similar themes with “The First Vietnamese War,” Maas is quick to dismiss any labeling of The Black Angels as a political band. “There’s a need to call out political wrongs, there’s never been a bad time to do that,” he explains. “But that’s not what I’m trying to say. Escape through music is what it is, escape in a meditative kind of way.”

A “meditative escape” is perhaps the best way to describe and experience The Black Angels, both on record and in concert. Live, the band seems to reach a communal zone that extends to the audience. “The more I hear the music, the more I get off,” says Maas. “It’s kind of a spiritual thing I get into, not to sound all hippy about it or anything.”

The band recently wrapped up a tour of North America and Europe with The Black Keys and has made appearances at the Sasquatch Music Festival, Austin City Limits and is set to play this year’s Bonnaroo. Yet despite its busy touring schedule, the band has found time to record tracks for a followup album.

“There’s some stuff on the new album that’s similar to Passover, similar themes,” Maas confesses. “Its different music… but still feels to me like Black Angels’ songs.”

By taking all of the elements that defined the experimental rock of the ‘60s and giving it a new voice applicable to this generation, The Black Angels are reinvigorating a scene that was due for a renewal.

“There are other bands that are doing what we’re doing, or in a similar vein as us,” explains Maas. “If those sort of bands could get together and make some sort of change in music, that would be awesome.”

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