Release Date: Jul 22, 2014
Record label: Blue Horizon
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
The Black Angels are extremely good at figuring out ways to propel their psychedelic mischief forward without worrying all that much about its current influx of popularity. The Austin band’s run of sinister, washed-out soundscapes has taken it from obscurity to elder-statesmen status in a matter of only a decade or so, filing down the familiar calling cards of psych to focus on strong songwriting, anchored by vocalist Alex Maas’ flatlining cadences. On Clear Lake Forest, the Angels’ haunted harmonies dig through lazy pop scorchers, as heard on album opener “Sunday Evening,” as Maas’ adolescent melodies proffer the inquiry, “What if I told you everything you know isn’t even really true?/ What if I told you nothing matters in the end?” Buoyed by guitarist Christian Bland’s blues-y drones and snappy, jangled strums, the tune’s initial snail’s pace is ramped up for the chorus and reverbed-out in the verse, vaunting a trippy tempo shift that exacerbates the band’s wall-of-sound aesthetics even further.
The Black Angels are no strangers to the kaleidoscopic heritage of their native Austin, Texas, and on ‘Clear Lake Forest’ they paint a psychedelic rainbow across a host of ’60s American icons. ‘Sunday Evening’ has all the exciting, jubilant energy of The Beach Boys, while the fuzzy drive of ‘Tired Eyes’ could beat Jefferson Airplane off their thunderous vessel. Best of all is closing track ‘Linda’s Gone’, a superb homage to The Velvet Underground where an oozing drone resembling the cacophonous viola from ‘Venus In Furs’, meets the guitar rattles of ‘Run Run Run’ and Alex Maas’ drowsy vocal completes the trip with references to The Doors’ ‘LA Woman’.
In Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, a would-be Civil War saboteur named Peyton Farquhar is caught and sentenced to hang. During his execution, his perception of time, memory, and physical reality begins to warp. He vividly hallucinates, and ultimately he dies, but not before experiencing one last bittersweet spasm of happiness and hope.
Calling the Black Angels a “'60s throwback” barely begins to describe the band's indebtedness to all those groovy records that baby boomers wore out sometime during the Nixon administration. It's like saying Chris Martin might have listened to one or two U2 songs over the years. The Black Angels are named after a Velvet Underground song after all, and frontman Alex Maas's vocals have always come startlingly close to sounding just like Jim Morrison's.