Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Black Angels Do Clear Lake Dives

With the band still looking for a hook as strong as Phosphene Dream, Austin-based The Black Angels found renewed inspiration by visiting a new sonically-charged location. Clear Lake Forest casts a bigger blues influence on what has become an expectant recipe of psychedelic relapse rock.

"After roaming through the Indigo Meadow, the time has come to journey to Clear Lake Forest," says Christian Bland (guitar/organ). "Where seven tales of diamonds, executioners, and other strange occurrences await underneath the crystal waves lapping in the lake."

It's in these stories that Bland, together with Stephanie Bailey (drums), Kyle Hunt (bass, keys, guitar), and Alex Maas (vocals), reimagine the more sinister side of their music. An Occurrence At 4507 South Third Street, for example, slowly swells from its organ-driven pulse into a flickering glimpse at the life of a gunfighter or criminal as he hangs from his neck until dead. Or something like that.

Clear Lake Forest is hazy, unsettling, and submergent. 

Clear Lake Forest stands out as an EP for its aim to make almost all seven tracks sound as if they were inspired by something seen an inch or two beneath the waterline. Peering into the silt-laced water, you can sometimes see remnants of the past trapped underneath the surface but without any real certainty.

The only way to know whether your eyes are playing tricks on you or not is to reach in and grab hold of it. The feat would be easy enough to do if not for that nagging sensation of being trapped.

Linda's Gone is an eerie and somewhat quirky ditty about a country bumpkin who follows her dreams and makes the move to the city. She doesn't have much of a chance to make it, quickly slipping into prostitution and drug abuse until there is nothing left of her.

The writing isn't nearly as a overt as that on any track and, likewise, not every track is as desperate or as murky. The Flop is considerably more fun. It provides a respite of sorts to mark the center of the EP and give it some heart.


Other tracks that give another nod to the more playful side of the sixties include the opener Sunday Evening. Under the guise of being a sticky sweet bubblegum melody, Maas hints at the afterlife and why it doesn't make sense to be afraid of it. The subtle touch of surf rock makes it perfect.

Tired Eyes and Diamond Eyes carries forward more carefree and inviting with its transportive powers. You can't help but to feel like being part of the hippiedom that inspired the sound. In more ways than one, it is these tracks that provide the lure for darker, more hypnotic material.

The Executioner would quality if it wasn't the weakest track on the album. Other than a possible link to An Occurrence At 4507 South Third Street, the reverb blots out too much of the music. It's a bit of a mess, despite the riveting consequence of lyrics before being blown out in the echo chamber.

Overall, there are times when the connections between Clear Lake Forest and the artists that inspire The Black Angels are too evident. But that is largely forgivable as the band bounces back from the lighter fare of Indigo Meadow to create a brilliantly textured mini-concept album.

Clear Lake Forest By The Black Angels Dives 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The darker, more haunted soundscapes remain the most compelling contributions to the band's repertoire, even if tracks like Tired Eyes and Diamond Eyes will receive the most play time. Both are a bit drug induced, but the guitars and harmonies make up for it. They both represent the "do what you want" part before the band starts dishing out some deadly consequence.

You can find Clear Lake Forest by The Black Angels on Amazon or download the EP from iTunes. The vinyl LP has been out longer than its digital counterparts. The vinyl edition of Clear Lake Forest can be picked up at Barnes & Noble. For tour dates, find them on Facebook.