Sunday, January 22, 2006

Turn On, Tune In, Drone Out...

The Black Angels, Passover, Light in the Attic

Emblazoned with a quote from epic miserablist Edvard "The Scream" Munch--"Illness, insanity, and death are the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life"--Passover emanates from a very dark place indeed. The lyrics describe death and destruction ("You kill, kill, kill, kill / Kill what you can") and the sound is heavy and forbidding (tribal drums, "drone machine," and a twin guitar attack that alternates between superfuzz and bad-trip blues), but this Austin quintet never falls into the goth-rock rabbit hole. In the liner notes, they acknowledge fellow Texan Roky Erickson and Anton Newcombe/the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and that should give some idea as to their sonic stomping ground. This is the brown acid side of psych-garage: The Doors meet the Velvet Underground by way of the Kills.

In her New York Times review of Tristan and Isolde, Manohla Dargis claims, "You've seen it before. You'll see it again." I feel the same way about the Black Angels. They've synthesized a goodly portion of my record collection. As such, I should dismiss their debut as redundant or passé, but they're so damned sincere about all this doom and gloom, I can't deny it. (Sincerity is the new black.) Plus, it isn't just noise; Passover is highly melodic and quite lovely in its gloominess. The Black Angels aren't being ironic or tongue-in-cheek. Nor are they a retro act, despite the late-'60s flashbacks. They're as serious as a heart attack and I, for one, am more than happy to go to their dark place for the duration of this beautifully-designed release (a gatefold digipak with embossed optical illusion). I've heard it before. I wanna hear it again.

Endnote: Poster design from the Black Angels website. Incidentally, Passover includes a hidden track, an acoustic anti-war number. The Angels in protest mode ("Somebody stop that war / Please stop that war") are two tastes that don't go together. Nice try, though. Also, when I interviewed LitA's Matt Sullivan last year, here's how he described his new signing: "A wicked five-piece guy/girl psych-rock band from deep in the heart of Texas. The ghosts of the Thirteen Floor Elevators have risen!" I'll say.

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