Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Black Angels Buzz Indigo Meadow

Alex Maas and Stephanie Bailey of The Black Angels
Phosphene Dream was a heavily textured breakout album for the Black Angels, highlighting the dark side of the sixties as told by five psychedelic rockers who had hit their stride three years ago. It took some time to catch on, but the band eventually earned the attention they deserved.

Their fourth release, Indigo Meadow, is seeing a lift a little sooner as a result. And while the Austin-based band has kept some of its contemporary-vintage vision together, expect that this new outing isn't nearly as dark (and sometimes not as honest). It isn't and wasn't meant to be.

Instead, Alex Maas (vocals, bass, organ), Stephanie Bailey (drums, percussion), Kyle Hunt (keyboards, percussion, bass, guitar), and Christian Bland (guitar, organ) opt for a long and winding slide of standalone tracks with the illusion of diversity despite giving guitarist Nate Ryan his walking papers last year. Right on. The band might be leaner, but they also sound tighter as they string together songs that represent an evolution of the band over nearly a decade.

Indigo Meadow is an intensely filling psychedelic relapse. 

Unfortunately, the decision to capture the essence of the Black Angels across four albums has already been lost on some critics. Many of them point out that while the hazy atmosphere is intact, familiarity can breed contempt. Some say the album is too formulaic; others claim it's too disjointed.

And the answer? It isn't in the middle. It's in the contradiction. The album teeters back and forth between self-medicated and mildly pretentious. Sometimes the band relies on old tricks to make things tick and sometimes they try something new that doesn't play as well as they would hope.

This might even be attributed to how the album came together. The Black Angels started writing the album as a sit down process (as opposed to writing while on tour) right around time they had a break with their former bandmate. The idea was to spend more time crafting their songs and writing lyrics. Then they took a few months off before recording, which puts an interesting twist on the album.

Indigo Meadow tracks sound better on their own or as part of the larger Black Angels experience than they do as an album. Even the lead-off title track, as seen in the live fan capture, rolls out with the right mournfulness before becoming lost in looking for a climax. It sets the mood for another song with bite.

Other tracks don't sound as wistful. Evil Things is appropriately dark, exploring the split between bad deeds done in the past and righteous paths laid out ahead. Much like the album's theme, it's about the capacity to be evil or benevolent or, as hinted at in the title, somewhere along that razor thin division on the spectral plane between blue and violet. Half the time, our eyes can't see it.

Holland also rides the line before surrendering to the dark while Twisted Light attempts to entice us into it. The latter attempt is almost a miss as the arrangement pummels more than it creates the right atmosphere. The better time-travel-to-the-sixties track is I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia), alluding to a perception bending trip from the era.

For something more out of the ordinary for the Black Angels, check out the straight rocker The Day or the oddly upbeat track You're Mine. The latter is mostly about two lovers who neither want to be together nor be apart. Love Me Forever also leans light while Broken Solider carries a message that isn't as overt as it seems on the first pass.

Indigo Meadow By The Black Angels Lights 5.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although not as strong as Phosphene Dream, Indigo Meadow delivers just enough neo-psychedelic treats to keep the touring arsenal fresh. As these tracks blend in, especially matched to the previous albums that inspired them, the standouts will likely separate themselves from the album.

Indigo Meadow is available on Amazon. You can also order vinyl from Barnes & Noble or download a specially mastered version for iTunes. While the album has plenty of highlights, there isn't much need to purchase it in entirety. Stick with Indigo Meadow, Evil Things, Holland, and whatever other track strikes you.
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