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Band of the Week: The Darkly Psychedelic Black Angels

The band's third album, 'Phosphene Dream,' could soundtrack 'Easy Rider'

November 1, 2010 6:22 PM ET

WHO: Five trippy Austinites who mine the fertile crevices where Sixties psychedelia meets dark Seventies proto-punk. Their third album, Phosphene Dream, could double as Easy Rider"s road trip playlist.

 
SOUNDS LIKE: On dirges like 'River of Blood" and the spooky title track, throbbing bass and spindly guitars overlay churning, droney reverb, finding a sweet spot between the old (13th Floor Elevators) and the not-so old (Spacemen 3, the Jesus & Mary Chain). Elsewhere, little bits of paisley garage-rock are sprinkled in: the sparkly 'Yellow Elevator #2" would fit right in on a Nuggets compilation of post-Altamont pop and the single 'Telephone," with its frug-ready Farfisa, hearkens back to the time when an unanswered call just meant no one was home. Singer/guitarist Alex Maas credits working in Los Angeles with producer Dave Sardy for some of the added sonic sunshine. 'He challenged us to do things we wouldn"t normally do in a way we couldn"t refuse," he explains. 'Like he"d say, ‘guys, I think John Lennon would have tried that." Oh, okay, if you say so!"
 
 
(DOWN) LOADED: Maas grew up in Houston listening to the Beatles (Magical Mystery Tour was a favorite) and attended school with guitarist Christian Bland. But the two didn"t hook up musically until years later, in Austin, where Maas was attending the University of Texas. Interestingly for such a retro band, it was technology that brought them together. Thanks to file-sharing sites like Napster and Limewire, the two were able to 'flood" their minds with 'tons of styles. Everything from trip-hop to lo-fi field recordings to the Velvet Underground." (The latter"s 'The Black Angel"s Death Song" inspired their band name.) Soon Maas was teaching himself how to play the electric jug ('I don"t know if I"m quite a master yet — I haven"t been to the caves in Tibet for six years") and the group — which currently includes drummer Stephanie Bailey, keyboardist Kyle Hunt and bassist Nate Ryan — were retrofitting old transistor organs until they generated the right 'soft kind of spaciness" behind the guitars.
 
MESSED WITH TEXAS: The band is proud to be carrying on a long tradition of Texas psychedelia (they"ve even backed up scene legend Roky Erickson), even if they aren"t quite sure why there"s a Texas psych scene in the first place. 'I think it must have something to do with the weird dichotomy of growing up here," Maas says. 'There"s a strict religious culture bumping up against a free-thinking population that wants to explore a bit more. Or maybe it has to do with the desert — it"s so big, vast and open. Oh, I don"t know. Maybe it"s the Mexican food."
 
 
PSYCHEDELIC, NOT PSYCHOACTIVE: The Black Angels may traffic in drone-heavy sounds and spacey, hypnotizing imagery (they tour with a 'projectionist" responsible for the freaky found images unspooling behind them), but there aren"t any groupies dressed as Janis Joplin handing out 'special" brownies backstage. 'I don"t think you need drugs to make psychedelia, I don"t even think you need to try them," Maas says. 'The music is supposed to take you there, to make you feel messed up. It"s a bad misconception that all psychedelic music creators are doing drugs." So how does the band spend its downtime if not lost in a chemical haze? 'We read a lot. Do normal stuff: Sudoku puzzles and play Scrabble," Maas says. 'We try and stay busy so we don"t have to revert to thinking life"s boring and doing copious drugs."

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