On the Hunt for Bad Vibrations

The Black Angels Preach Modern-Day Psychedelia

It’s easy to get lost in the slow-building desert rock of The Black Angels, even without the drugs.

The Austin-based five-piece creates music that spreads a message of individual, non-violent free thought, a plea adorning the inside panel of their latest record Phosphene Dream. It’s the attempted death rattle of modernity’s pitfalls, a sentiment consistent with the band’s sound.

“Everything evolves, everything has evolved in this world. How we’ve evolved is through natural selection,” said lead singer Alex Maas. “We’ve been attracted to certain books and songs, and just like natural selection we’ve held onto these things.”

The Black Angels keep it old school, with rumbling percussion and dark, blusey guitar laying foundation. Their sound has the feel of an acid-induced dirge, with Maas singing from atop a mountain – echoing and reverberating its way to our ears.

“I’m not huge into synth and drum machines, but I think they can be done well,” said Maas. “If you look at [late ’70s punk duo] Suicide , they were using early drum machines and all kinds of weird shit – oscillators and different synthesizers.”

“Stuff that came out in the ’80s and late ’70s were kind of horrendous noises, but I think it can be done right. I think it’s just about who’s playing the instrument,” he continued. “If you put David Bowie behind a Casio organ from K Mart he’s going to make it sound badass.”

Sticking with tools from the ’60s is what has yielded the best results for The Black Angels. Channeling vibrations of artists passed, their desert rock finds ample space to thrive in the 21st century.

“If you play vintage instruments and older guitars and pedals, then you’re naturally going to have an older sound. They’re obviously not making amplifiers like they used to,” said Maas. “It’s a little harder for upkeep and it falls apart a lot, but for us it’s worth it.”

The group is bringing more to the table than recycled 50-year-old ideas. It’s a rejection of upbeat, homogeneous music, and is a breath of fresh air that’s gaining in strength.

“We’re different people than the people from the ’60s,” said Maas. “We watch different movies and read different things, we have different inspirations than they did. I think we have a good balance between past and future.”

And they aren’t the only ones. Over the past several years the band has seen more and more artists adding vintage psychedelia into the forefront of their sound, and have more groups than ever coming for the band’s own annual hometown music festival at the end of the month, Austin Psych Fest.

“This year we found about 55 bands that are kind of in the same vein that we’re bringing to Austin for the psychedelic music festival,” said Maas. “That older sound is on its way back.”

Maybe there’s extra humanity found in laptop-free music, or at least it seems that way in The Black Angels’ approach. It’s all about good vibrations, and the band has the power to capture the crowd in its collective trance.

“I just want to feel the music,” said Maas. “If we can make people feel a certain way, whether they’re enjoying it or having some sort of drug-induced feeling through the music, then that’s awesome.”

It’s always been more about the music than tripping out for the band. The mystique of flower-child-meets-rock-star lifestyle fades pretty fast – consider the amount of those originals who are now unstable and incoherent.

“You see burnouts, people who did that like Roky Erickson or PJ Valletti, people get too fucked up,” said Maas. “Those things can open doors but it’s not what we’re about.”

The Black Angels / April 12th / La Sala Rossa (4848 St Laurent) / with Suuns / $17 advance, $20 door

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.