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/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 & 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: Image from the Black Angels website. Incidentally, Passover includes a hidden track, an acoustic antiwar 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 the group: "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!" 

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