Sound & Color

Austin’s Black Angels songs bear different hues

Alex Maas and his Black Angels hunted for Council Bluffs' black angel the last time the Texas psychedelic rock band was in Omaha for a show.

The middle of the night search for the sculpture, created by Lincoln Memorial artist Daniel Chester French, came after the band heard about the statue at their show.

"We never did find it," Maas says.

If the chance arises again though, Maas may just make it out to see the 10-foot-tall bronze angel when his band plays in town Sunday, April 21st.

The Black Angels have evolved since last coming to town, when the group's first album Passover carried a heavier, droned-out vibe that nodded in the druggier directions of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Texas psych legends 13th Floor Elevators.

Earlier this year the band released Indigo Meadow, their fourth album. Many of the album's songs showcase the band's knack for finding shorter journeys to get to the same sonic destination. Drone is dialed back in favor of something akin to concision.

That doesn't mean there's any less head-thumping exploration of the band's psych rock impulses. Maas says it comes down to the fact that it's more of an artistic challenge and triumph to write a successful 3 1/2 minute song than it is to write an eight minute one.

Still, Maas says there was no real plan on what Indigo Meadow would be when the band went down to record at the Sonic Ranch in the El Paso County border town of Tornillo, Texas last August.

Maas says its just captures where the band is at musically at the moment, compiling the best of the last two years of songwriting.

"You try to find the story behind it after you document it," Maas say.

Those two years of songwriting took on a couple different processes, as the band sought to remove their mindset from being a band jamming in a practice room.

Since the days before recording their first album, the band has always been fond of shutting themselves in a room and killing all the lines. In the dark, songs rise up and come together.

Maas says the band will put themselves in a set fictional scenario to write in, as well, choosing something out there like its 1945 and the band is in the Balkans.

"We'll kind of score a scenario in our heads," Maas says. "You're focused clearly on the sound."

Then there's the recurrence of color that hangs over the band. Songs like "You In Color", "Yellow Elevator #2", "Black Grease" all allude to the collision of sound and color on Indigo Meadow's "I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)".

"Color themes have always been in our songs since the very beginning," Maas says.

That theme had guided the band to the point where the band slotted their songs on a color matrix to help them determine live setlists.

"It sounded like a really strange idea at the time," Maas says.

But in the end, it helped the band figure out what songs fit in what category, creating a more cohesive live show.

Maas says the idea of chromaesthesia, where people perceive the sensation of sound as colors, intrigued him as he became aware of it. He says he can see just how closely related they can be though, as our ears connect to limbic system which control memory and imagination, he says.

"It's a gift people have," he says.

Meanwhile, Maas says he can feel a reinvigoration happening in the world of psych rock. The Black Angels are among a host of bands that are expanding heavy, noisy, 60s-influenced sounds beyond the realm of retro rock retread.

The Black Angels have helped spearhead the Austin Psych Fest the last six years and have lined up bands like Atlanta experimental pop act Deerhunter and Japanese metal deconstructionists Boris, alongside classic psych acts like Moving Sidewalks and Brazil's Os Mutantes. Up-and-coming acts like the Night Beats, White Fence and Bass Drum of Death are also on the bill.

"I'm really looking forward to what's happening right now," he says.

While psychedelia is a ton of different genres, there seems to be a growing over-arching awareness of bands and its seems like bands are all supportive of each other.

Part of growth comes from a interconnected online community of people listening to music on the web and hosting similar events across the country.

The Black Angels w/ The Allah-Las and Elephant Stone play the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., Sunday, April 21st at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit onepercentproductions.com.

posted at 06:47 pm
on Monday, April 15th, 2013

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