Wandering Out of the Chaos with the Black Angels
by Mat Weir
Last year saw the release of the Austin-based, L.A. transplanted Black Angels’ fourth full-length, Indigo Meadow. By compressing themselves into a quartet (although I remember five people on stage in San Francisco for the tour), the Black Angels maintain their fuzzed-out, ’60s vibe while straying from their earlier psychedelic roots and branching out into more structured, poppier songs.
Compared to their first two albums, Passover and Directions to See A Ghost, the Black Angels substitute their sonic offense with more playful, accessible songs. Tunes like “Don’t Play With Guns,” “The Day,” and especially “You’re Mine” approach the genre in the same vein as the Yardbirds or the Turtles; catchy ditties heavy on Christian Bland’s & Kyle Hunt’s fuzztoned guitars topped with plenty of Farfisa organ and–dare I say it–radio friendly.
Even with the evolution of sound, Stephanie Bailey’s drums are just as thunderous as ever. They provide the heavy spinal chord for singer Alex Maas’ liquid voice to flow through. Songs like “Evil Things” and “Holland” maintain the more droning, dramatic flavor we’ve all come to love from the band. In this sense, Indigo Meadow fits nicely into the Black Angels’ discography.
However, this also poses a problem which can be summed up nicely in an example from real life.
One of my fellow Streetlightians is a huge ’60s, psychedelic, garage rock nut. This cat has LPs and 45s from bands nobody but the true, vinyl elite know about. Not only will he play you a track from a band so ahead of their time they were making punk in 1960, he’ll then play you the obscure, underground bands they were influenced by. A true connoisseur. However, whenever I play the Black Angels his face grows puzzled and he asks, “This is what you call psychedelic?”
This sentiment is shared by several critics. Steven Hyden in Pitchfork went as far to say that Indigo Meadow is nothing more than the same from the Black Angels, only worse because of the breakdown in psychedelia & the band’s pretentious nature (yes, the band is a little pretentious, but they’re an acid-rock band living in L.A. They’re supposed to be pretentious. Just look at the Doors.).
And herein lies the problem. For some, the Black Angels started out as nothing but a throw-back, hipster band trying to revive a type of music not their own. For others, they’re a band that draws influences from the past but tries to add their own flavor, which is wandering out of the chaos and into the more digestable.
I’m of a third party. I’ve loved the band since the first time I listened and continue to be Pavlovian excited whenever I hear something new. Even though I know what to expect from the band, each album does have its own unique style, a snapshot of the band at that moment in time. Sure, you might not be in the mood for something more poppy–like when I was tripping on acid last weekend and the album sounded sooooo organized and produced–but their discography will always provide you with something else. Plus, they’re killer live. Both times I saw them live, the show was energetic, dreamy and lucid with the music flowing through the audience’s bodies in a drugged-out trip.
Indigo Meadow might not be my favorite album, but it’s a great one for anyone not familiar with the musical genre who’s looking for a more prodced sound. I’ve kept this thing on heavy rotation since the release date and the LP format comes with a beautiful, giant booklet attached inside the gatefold. Once again showing that the Black Angels are a bunch of artists trying to preserve some form of standard in an ever-changing landscape.