Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Black Angels' "Passover": Music Review

Along with Darker My Love's "2" and The Black Angels' follow-up, "Directions to See A Ghost," (see tomorrow's entry for the latter) this is a strong recent record in the droning, doomed, and dirge-soaked genre of neo-psychedelia. I was frankly expecting, based on the band's name and description, a far more derivative band, and I am relieved to find I was mostly wrong. If this band can stay focused and progress, they might make a brilliant record.

For a debut, this is one solid album. I'd hesitate for five stars only because I predict they will top this as they grow into their songwriting and realize a more complicated lyrical and musical vision. While certainly not only the Doors (of which I am not a fan!) but The Gun Club (both lyrical and vocal similarities to Jeffrey Lee Pierce) and Echo & the Bunnymen (not in the sound so much as the post-punk attitude and their sinister yet accessibly pop-oriented vibe) will echo here, they create an appealingly grim sound scape for these death-haunted, obsessively structured, somber songs.

Another contemporary "Black" band, "Black Mountain," may also come to mind in their shared quest to uncover an overlooked mother lode of late-60s psych, less flower power and frippery, more stripped-down and brutal. This is a harsher, gnawed, numbed entry into the psyche. It can be oddly erotic, but dredging up a lustful, aching, mournful passion. They remind me of a lovelorn person's sleepless nights.

The tribal drums here carry most songs along in the spirit of Mo Tucker from the Velvet Underground, while capturing the desert rawness of Roky Erickson's band 13th Floor Elevators. This newer band's also from Austin, and their appealingly dessicated quality in their relentlessly percussive, tormented folksy music makes a great soundtrack for a mental or real trip down a lost highway out West.

The album seems a loosely conceived saga of a soldier sent off to war and trying to come back home-- or not getting back entirely, in some profound sense of the soul. The last song's nakedly naive in its late-60s's folk slogan-protest march tone, but I think this expression of grief and frustration may be half-deliberate, half-accidental. The band's obviously intelligently incorporating sources from three and four decades back while they are conscious-- I think-- of not overdoing themselves as a soundalike homage. The inclusion of Iraq alongside Vietnam in the final track reminds us that long after the moratoriums and Kent State and Berkeley demonstrations ended, anti-war music remains for us still sadly relevant.

(Posted 1/29/08 to Amazon.)


Bob said...

Yep, directions to see a ghost is my #6 of 2008. Sometimes music exceeds genre-essentialist description. We continue to look for that lost chord.

Fionnchú said...

What's on your top-ten, -twenty, -forty, or... for '08? I've heard so little new the past year I must be getting old. Speak, o muse, of recent luciferian rebels against "genre-essentialism."

Edinburgh Flats said...

good stuff