The Black Angels - Clear Lake Forest - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Black Angels - Clear Lake Forest

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2014-07-21

Seeing The Black Angels live in Sydney in 2013 was a cinematic event. The band projected as if characters from a Sergio Leone movie, anamorphic shadows moving at intervals, quick trigger laser lighting locking your eyes on target, switching your brain to high definition. At a certain point of immersion, the egregious acid-rock freak-outs were capable of bringing on a brain waffling dopamine storm, and I remember standing there awestruck.

The Black Angels by now have black-belt credentials in psych rock, and they can sail with the tailwind. While that tailwind has allowed the band to experiment with their sound, the move to a more obvious 1960s pop-sheen was perhaps inevitable. With such creative choices will come different gateways to success and an enlarged fanbase, but it might also alienate fans with preferences for the more progressive elements of the band’s music.

The latest effort Clear Lake Forest explores the poppier end of their particular spectrum. The Black Angels count among their influences The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and some of the guitar-work on the EP evidences that contemporary lineage as much as the historic, going right back to The Red Crayola, 13th Floor Elevators, and many other Texan artists signed, sealed and delivered by International Artist Records *. There’s a debt to be paid, and Maas and partners are paying it with superb execution.

In the days, pre-Indigo Meadow, it sometimes appeared to me that Black Angels singer Alex Maas was striving for the Jim James holler of the new-age man, his cavernous soprano bearing that resemblance. But really Maas’s voice is an integral part of the band’s lysergic patchwork, more constricted by fear than possessed with the sublime. On Clear Lake Forest, the vocals take on a far less dour and loopy tone. ‘Linda’s Gone’ is The Black Angels doing their own ‘Sister Ray’. Another superb effort from a band sailing away from its main competition.

What must immediately strike the average Black Angels fan, though, is the quality and catchiness of the songwriting, more in the vein of song ‘The First Vietnamese War’ from 2006.  The guarantee with The Black Angels is that you’ll always find a track with a brilliantly trippy momentum shift. See ‘The Executioner’ at 1:33 for instance for a weirdly careening vocal and some neat guitar-work, or ‘The Flop’ where the music takes on a carnival, roundabout sound, if that sound was tailored to adults rather than little runts.

* Never Ever Land is a great compilation of International Artists music from Texas in the 1960s (Snapper UK)


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