Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Record label: Blue Horizon
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
As twee as they are trippy, Austin garage-psych revivalists the Black Angels have built a respectable cult-level career out of fuzzy, midtempo rock that might've felt ominous in 1966. The band's fourth album flirts intermittently with heaviness without ever risking metal; suggests spaciness without ever blasting into the stratosphere; evokes combat ("Don't Play With Guns," "War on Holiday," "Broken Soldier") without ever clarifying why. Two different songs compare non-vine-y things to vines, and frequent Eastern drones descend from the Yardbirds and the Velvet Underground.
Over the past few years The Black Angels have emerged as the patriarchs and greatest ambassadors for modern psych rock. They’re from the psych-rich city of Austin, have been at it for longer than most and have used their stature to help along worthy up-and-comers. In 2008 they founded the Austin Psych Fest, the nation’s preeminent celebration of the genre.
Are the Austin psyche-paths committed to documenting 1967? On “I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia),” singer-guitarist Alex Maas’ contralto salutes Grace Slick. “Don’t Play with Guns” invokes the hippie beeline from the Summer of Love to Manson. The “Broken Soldier” lyric, “It’s hard to kill when you don’t know which side you’re on,” could easily apply to Vietnam.
The opening tom hits and fuzzbox riffs that start Indigo Meadow give the indication that this is yet another turn on the Black Angels' merry-go-round of stoner rock and neo-psychedelia. However, the third song, "Don't Play with Guns," takes a decided turn with its big pop single hook, and the follow-ups "Holland" and "The Day" follow suit, as songs that are more carefully structured than the usual two-chord repetition that we've grown to expect. Not that there's anything wrong with the sound of bands like Spacemen 3 and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but after several albums based on repetition, this is a pleasant, unexpected change for the Austinites.
While this talented band’s last album, Phosphene Dream, drifted into Revolver-era references, Indigo Meadow opts for acid pop. In an age when (perhaps ironically) many of us hear music on speakers in our phones or computers not much advanced from the transistor radios or boomboxes of youth, this album alters its treble tones for digital media states. It’s classic, thickened, crunchy rock lightened for earbuds.
Austin four-piece The Black Angels have been at the forefront of the neo-psychedelia movement for the best part of a decade. Having initially gained widespread attention courtesy of debut release 'Black Grease' being included on Northern Star Records' initial Psychedelica compilation in 2006, they've steadily built a reputation as leaders of a scene many argue wouldn't exist were it not for The Black Angels' dedication to its cause. Co-founders of Austin Psych Fest, an event which has grown into the psychedelic movement's largest worldwide event in the six years since its conception, The Black Angels' universal acclaim having spread across the Atlantic with numerous events of a similar nature taking place annually in East London and Liverpool.
The resurgence of psychedelic rock has been steadily building strength, and it has washed up a wave of jangly guitars and an undertow of echo. The more popular groups in the genre have been on the lighter side (UMO), or at the darkest, hitting upon a Piper at the Gates of Dawn feel (Ty Segall/White Fences/et al). Not many have delved into the shadowy reaches, but Austin veterans The Black Angels have been changing that.
In 10-second intervals-- the first few bars of a fuzz-drenched guitar riff, the opening thuds of a tribal drum beat, the first line dripping from a stoned vocal-- the Black Angels can sound like the coolest band on the planet. If only there didn’t have to be an endless series of identical 10-second intervals after that; what’s initially thrilling about these Texas psych-rockers gets run through a loop that quickly turns monotonous, then tedious, and finally deadening. Their fourth album, Indigo Meadow, is more of the same.
On Indigo Meadow, terror finally hits home for the Black Angels. As if to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the locals' fourth LP and first since the departure of longtime guitarist Nate Ryan tackles the lasting toll of war – both foreign and domestic. "Broken Soldier" tells of a veteran "wounded in both legs" and struggling to regain intimacy.
Is nostalgia all bad? The Black Angels take their name from a Velvet Underground song, and are the most recent entry in a sort of Renegade History of Americana; a hot mess of psychedelia and blues rock that shares DNA with the Velvets, Jefferson Airplane, and the bands that have learnt at their heroes’ knees (or at least, from their record sleeves) – The Raveonettes, Wolfmother, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Slavish devotion to the mores and fashions of old music can is deathly dull. There’s no point in just photocopying something you like – it’ll come out just the same, or maybe even a little worse.