Download: The Black Angels “Doves”

(from Directions To See A Ghost on Light In The Attic/Suretone)

Pre-party at Spaceland for this weekend’s Clean Air Clear Stars fest, which dumps a bunch of L.A. RECORD-friendly cow-psych into a desert not so dissimilar from the one I happened to grow up in. (True test: how many broken cars are in any given front yard? Smashed ’83 Hondas are practically a native succulent where I come from.) Tonight is Portland fuzzgaze band Swoon 23‘s first L.A. show in about a decade plus headliners the Black Angels, who sophomore album was a great leap forward and who will be coming back in a few weeks as Roky Erickson‘s backing band. Plus DJ Short Shorts, who is the voice of L.A. RECORD radio. I’ve talked to Black Angels a few times—this one from L.A. RECORD in the infamous Mika Miko issue.

What’s the difference between an ‘evil’ sound and a ‘hostile’ sound?
An evil sound is more of a kind of feel—a dirge-y kind of hypnotic drone-y thing.
Who made the best evil music?
The original bluesmen probably did it the best. John Lee Hooker—they used to call his stuff ‘hypno-drone.’ I read about it in an old blues book. It gets in your head. I don’t think there’s any better kind of music for that kind of driving repetitive hypnotic thing. And of course the old country music. Hank Williams. And early rock ‘n’ roll—Bo Diddley is another.
What do you listen to when you’re going to sleep?
The Louvin Brothers. It makes my soul feel at rest.

The rest of L.A. RECORD and Black Angels here. More and more below.

This from DISTRICT and the Black Angels show on the Queen Mary this summer:

There is that lonesome, crazy, almost-poisonous sound that was there in American music almost as soon as they began recording it—what B.B. King said came from breaking the verbs in the blues, and what Wayne McGuire’s lonely essay found in “Sister Ray.” It was the drone, the hum, the anxious tone that comes from the pulse of blood and nerves—it was what John Cage finally heard when he visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard. (Two sounds that kept silence from ever being complete, he’d remember: “One high, my nervous system in operation; one low, my blood in circulation.”) It’s as close as one can come to the sound of nothing—the sound just before nothing, which is possibly why McGuire called it “the death drive”—and after an album and a little pile of auxiliary releases, the Black Angels have become very good at playing nothing.

The old Black Angels recordings never really hooked me—they were a little more winky back then, with songs like “Sniper at the Gates of Heaven” and “Yesterday Always Knows” playing around with jokes done best by J Spaceman. But the just-out Directions to See a Ghost (on Light in the Attic, also home of Bernie Purdie’s porno soundtrack) is a minor revelation, a sophomore full-length that finds the Black Angels smarter, harder, slower, meaner, wilder, wearier, weirder and purer—the comfortable songs of their last album dissolved away and replaced with that blown-open space, and everything left at the edges more concentrated for it. “Deer Ree She” hangs on a sitar line like a sloth on a branch; “Mission District” beats a song out of drums and helicopter vibrato; “You in Color” is like “Slip Inside This House” as nursed back to health by Loop, with a centipede guitar line divided and revised toward infinity.

Roky Erickson might have shot Angels guitarist Christian Bland a few instructions by ESP, laughs singer Alex Maas, who said in 2006 that he didn’t think anyone in America listened to the Velvet Underground, and who amends the statement now to explain that he meant that no one listens to the Velvet Underground: “A lot of people know about them,” he explains, “but people aren’t making that evil dark kind of gnarly sound.”

The idea of evil sounds comes up often for Black Angels, as frequently referenced as the idea of ghosts haunting their house in Austin. (Maas says he’s never actually seen them, though sometimes they come home from the supermarket and the rooms themselves are somehow changed, he laughs, just like in a Lovecraft story.) An evil sound is “a dirge-y kind of hypnotic drone-y thing,” Bland told me, sourced from blues players (like Robert Johnson, famously recorded in Texas) and Hank Williams and Bo Diddley.

Though by the time the Black Angels have gotten to those guys, there’s not much left with the meat still on—so they have to make it last, like blues as rationed during wartime. These new songs come stretched and raw between distant home notes, with depth from echo and effect and lyrics for Michael Herr: war and acid, death and drone and drive, the kind of songs so sometimes wide and empty that they float you out on stage, says Maas. Atmosphere, you could call it, which is what they thought was nothing a long time ago, until they came up with the concept of miasma, which will work here as well.


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