Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Black Angels' "Directions to See a Ghost": Music Review.

Any CD that credits not only "rogue sitar" but "drone machine" better deliver fresh assaults, not rehashed revamps from the first peyote era. This betters, as I'd predicted (see my review yesterday here and on Amazon US of "Passover") their début. It stretches out with ominous beats into austere horizons on the eight-minute "Never/Ever" up to the sixteen-minute closing track, "Snake in the Grass." These bookend a well-arranged second half (more than that in the elapsed time) of the tracks here.

The first half of the album follows more its predecessor, not blazing a new trail yet. It's solid, but not until "Deer-Ree-Shee" with its sitars did I begin to turn up the volume and want to listen harder. From this point on, the intensity builds. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC--back when they tried to sound more acid-drenched and less faux-bluesy), 13th Floor Elevators (also from Austin) all come to mind, along with an inevitable nod to The Doors, Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground, and to me Ian McCulloch's vocal delivery from Echo & the Bunnymen. My son heard early on what it takes track 7 "Never/Ever" to fully prove, an appropriate use of the band Clinic's "Visitations"-era processed spooky, echo-laden, dubbish croon. Like Clinic, The Black Angels build their own pinnacle atop a venerable edifice of neo-psychedelia that improves upon the foundation. As with Black Mountain near them on the shelves, they study the past to enrich their future as musicians able to incorporate the best from forty years ago.

But, as on the first CD, where the Black Angels (like Darker My Love may be doing in a poppier vein) begin to break free of their competitors is in their density of sonic production. I've heard The Warlocks (as in their latest "Freaky Deaky Skull Lover") enter a similar maturity, hammering down a thicker, insistent, and forbidding aura that somehow propels itself rather than miring itself in homage to sludgier pioneers of doom. What helps this for the Angels is the sonic space opened, and an additional member to the band. More guitar allows more diversity.

The vocals do get used more as texture than dominance. Fine in the studio, but I suspect a live concert would embellish these tunes even more. On record, they tend towards a broader spectrum than "Passover," and the self-consciously psychedelic filagree ornaments the songs nicely. As before, it's hard to carry off this music without sounding fey or derivative, but they've done it, improving the promise of album number one. A final thanks for the album design and layout-- this shows a smart group eager to "emboss" upon the same old template their own distinctively complex mark.

P.S. I wish the bonus tracks were available that were only sold at concerts or for pre-order: some of us fans only found out about this too late!

(Posted to Amazon US today.)


Bob said...

Peyote era is, by definition, timeless and unable to number.

Fionnchú said...

My reference was a weakly glancing aside to the band's song "The First Vietnamese War," but of course you are as usual pithily and profoundly correct. My experience with peyote or its desert cousins was limited to my reading, freshman year of college (for English class!) of "Journey to Ixtlan" by Don Juan's inductee Carlos Casteneda. And my faint visual recollection is "Altered States" nearly as long ago with William Hurt on shrooms in México, coincidentally. When he turns into a wild beast. That's acting: the viewer's suspension of disbelief that this would be credible for mild-mannered preppie Hurt indeed!

Drug scenes on the screen never seem to work, and those on record often fail too, methinks, even those with Dennis Hopper. "Directions" provides me a safe simalacrum, in my relative innocence. Future vetters of me for Foreign Service appointments or plum tenure track posts take note. I lead/led a boring life, but unlike many on my frosh dorm floor, I managed to graduate.