Friday, April 12, 2013

The Black Angels - Indigo Meadow (2013)

Contrary to what many believe about modern psychedelic music, the genre isn't all about peace, love, and dancing hippies. From the very beginning, The Black Angels have challenged these notions with a darker, more sinister edge. Since 2008, I've seen the band play a number of times and each show has been a memorable experience. One year, during a performance at SXSW, the crowd broke into a violent mosh pit. While at the CD release show for their 2nd album, there was an incredible light show and strange film footage displayed while the band played. For a moment, the visual effects mixed with their trance-like rhythms made me feel as though someone had slipped me some acid. And at a third concert, I was almost certain that they played a Joy Division cover, only to discover it was an original called "Manipulation". With that being said, The Black Angels are not your typical flower power psych-rock band. Their sound walks a blurry line between retro and otherworldly; steeped in blues, yet drenched in reverb and studio experimentation, with simple yet extremely effective tribal rhythms that send you into orbit.

Indigo Meadow marks the band's fourth studio album of their career and the first new record in 2 and 1/2 years. Despite the wait, the band stayed busy with a hefty amount of touring, and various side projects. (Guitarist - Christian Bland formed another psych-rock band with The Revelators. While lead singer - Alex Maas, did some recording with the lead singer of the Heartless Bastards - Erika Wennerstrom, in a group called Sweet Tea.) Also notable is that The Black Angels recorded Indigo Meadow as a four piece rather than a 5-6 piece band for the first time in their career. In 2012, original member/guitarist/bassist - Nate Ryan quit to pursue other projects.

Writing for Indigo Meadow took place in Austin between January and June of 2012. In that time, thirty songs were written in total. According to interviews with both Alex Maas and Christian Bland, this was the first album that they actually sat down and "crafted" the songs together before going into the studio. Whereas before, most of their new material was developed from jamming at soundchecks, and in the studio. As a result, the songs on Indigo Meadow are much more concise than on past efforts. Following the writing of the album, the band went to Sonic Ranch Studios in the West Texas border town of Tornilla. There, they geared their time more towards experimenting and getting the weirdest sounds possible out of their instruments. The sessions ended in three weeks, resulting in 16 finished songs.

Like every Black Angels album, Indigo Meadow sounds best when played LOUD! It features a fair amount of the groovy buzz-saw guitar riffage, thunderous bass lines, ghostly vocals, and tribal 4/4 drum patterns that fans have come to know and love; as well as a monstrous mixed bag of noises that often left me scratching my head at times. Backwards tape loops, multi-layered vocals - processed to sound like organs, and a ton of sounds that just left me clueless as to how they were made, were just a few of the minor details that I started noticing after several listens. There is no question that this is an album that gets more interesting with repeat listens, and that the band are obviously progressing musically. But often these added textures mixed with the concise 60's influenced songwriting come off sounding cluttered, and as though there is too much happening at once. As a result some of the better songs ("Twisted Light") suffer for it, while other not-so-great songs ("The Day") seem to hide behind the shield of unnecessary noise.

Still there is a solid chunk of songs you'll probably love on this album. The aptly titled - "Evil Things" and the last two minutes of closing song "Black is Black" feature explosions of fuzzy guitar lines, banshee howls, and deep bassy groove that recall their first album - Passover. On other numbers like the creepy and hypnotic - "Holland"; the haunting first single - "Don't Play with Guns", and "I Hear Colors" (which ranks as one of their most "psychedelic" songs to date); the band seems to have stuck their head into a whole new realm musically. Similar to their last album - Phosphene Dream, The Black Angels have continued to draw from 60's garage rock, early Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, The Zombies, The Doors, and of course The 13th Floor Elevators. Prime examples include "You're Mine" (a catchy little cannibalistic love song set to a time-travel palette of rhythm) and "Love Me Forever" (which features ringing Rickenbacker guitars and an interesting break that sounds like something that could have been on Pet Sounds).

Indigo Meadow, although currently my least favorite album by The Black Angels, is still an interesting listen with several must hear songs. This could end up being an album that reveals itself more and more over the coming years, the way that their 2nd album Directions to See a Ghost did for me. Still, it'll be interesting to see where the band goes from here. And as always their amazing live shows are a must see!

 out of 5

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