Psych album of the week: the Black Angels’ Indigo Meadow (2013)

Droning, buzzing, euphoric and red-eyed, the fourth full-length by the Black Angels features all the ’60s-referencing psychedelic sounds you could wish for

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Black Angels.

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Droning, buzzing, euphoric, and red-eyed, Indigo Meadow is the fourth full-length by the Black Angels, a neo-psych-rock group hailing from Austin, Texas. The album features all the ’60s-referencing psychedelic sounds you could wish for. These include vintage organ washes, ‘verbed and fuzzed-out hollow-body electric-guitar lines, round and thumpy bass, loping drum grooves, and Alex Maas’s understated summer-of-’67 vocals. 

The Angels’ hometown knows a thing or two about psychedelic music.  Psych rock pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators hail from Austin, for example. Beginning in 2008, the Elevators-referencing “Levitation” festival (formerly known as “Austin Psych Fest”) has been curated by the “Reverberation Appreciation Society”. This society includes Angels members Alex Maas and Christian Bland, and supports the ongoing interest in the genre. The festival has expanded to include Levitation events in Chicago; Vancouver; and Angers, France, as well. 

Paisley-infused yesteryear

The list of artists appearing at these festivals over the years leaves no doubt as to their importance in today’s music scene. They include Animal Collective, Flying Lotus, Slowdive, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Sunn O))), and Boris. Oh, and Tame Impala, Spiritualized, the Flaming Lips, the Dandy Warhols, and the Zombies. Need more proof? Try Of Montreal, Silver Apples, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Swervedriver, Black Mountain, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Brian Wilson. 

But let’s get back to the Black Angels themselves, and their distinctive brand of paisley-infused yesteryear. “Indigo Meadow” opens the album with a bouncy feel and interweaving guitar and organ lines. (“Be strong/I wish that you were/Your aching eyes are not my concern.”) Distorted, Sabbath-style bass leads off “Evil Things” as the band falls into a Mogadon-paced, high-gain slo-mo riff fest. 

Speaking of pace, most of the 13 succinct songs on Indigo Meadow are either in the dirge-y 70-90 beats per minute range or a faster 120-140 bpm range.  This is significant because it reveals much about the Angels’ method for hypnotizing their listeners. We are either numbed into a slow trance or stunned into submission by brisk tempos, catchy riffing, and freakout moments. 

Feeling groovy

Either way, the band uses repetitive motifs and looping musical and vocal figures to get everyone feeling groovy. Many bands don’t know when to stop while using repetition as a device. No song on Indigo Meadow, however, exceeds four and half minutes in length. That the Angels can so effortlessly set their trademark mood while not extending their arrangements ad nauseam shows impressive restraint. It also displays musical smarts. 

“Don’t Play With Guns” rocks out with a fat distorted bass line and a poppy chorus. Elsewhere, “Holland” slows things down with a slippery feel and a guitar line that moves in tandem with the main organ figure. The song finds Maas in an antisocial frame of mind: “Yeah I’d rather die/Than be with you tonight”. 

A lovely throwback 12-string guitar line anchors “Love Me Forever”. “War on Holiday”, meanwhile, alternates between spy-flick pluckiness and heavy riff-mongering. 

Overtly psychedelic

“I Hear Colours (Chromaesthesia)” is the most overtly psychedelic track. It features backwards guitar, woozy theremin textures, and amphetamine-shuffle drums. “I feel colors rushing through my veins,” Maas sings. “Making me invincible to pain/I can hear them everywhere/Screaming by and glowing bright/So bright/I can hear them crawling down my spine/In through me they enter, make me shine.”

The album ends with the split-personality track “Black On Black”. Half the song goes by with a sparse baritone-range guitar accompaniment and understated vocals. After that, the whole band crashes in with a driving and head-bobbing groove that fades away into the ether. “Now here you come all dressed in black/Swallow up this world like a vine that will not die/Placed on this planet, darkness at the door/Now black isn’t black anymore.”

Sonic psych-out

One minute and 15 seconds into “War On Holiday,” the combination of the descending electric piano riff and the wonderfully interlaced string machine part pulls you in every direction at once.

Trippiest lyrics

“A slew of gypsy acid cats on their way off to Holland/With their witchy veiny claws, they’re grabbing at your wallet” (“Holland”)

In their own words

“With the genre of psychedelic music, I think that’s what people are trying to do, they’re just trying to enlighten themselves. I say this all the time – we give out music in a very therapeutic way—it’s escapism, it’s therapy, it’s educational, it’s storytelling, it’s a documentation of the times.” (Alex Maas)

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