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The Black Angels: Indigo Meadow
Brian Eno once famously commented that the Velvet Underground might only have sold 30,000 records while they were still together, but "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band". In the case of Texas four-piece band, The Black Angels, they didn't only start a band, they named themselves after the Velvet Underground's 'The Black Angel's Death Song' and use a high contrast negative of occasional vocalist, Nico, as their logo.
With those references, it should come as no surprise that The Black Angels' sound is highly inspired by the Velvet Underground and some of their contemporaries. Lead vocalist Alex Maas' voice has the same characteristic nonchalance as that of Lou Reed, while Stephanie Bailey's dry and often primitive drums are in line with Maureen Tuckers' bare rhythms.
Other notable influences are the Doors, especially in the wild, flailing organ on tracks, 'Evil Things', 'I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)' and 'Twisted Light and War On Holiday'. There is a hint of early Rolling Stones in 'Broken Soldier' and the Yardbirds recieve a nod on 'The Day'. Overall, this fourth album by the psychedelic quartet breathes the atmosphere of the 60's flower-power era, with a dash of garage rock.
It sounds almost exactly the same as the Black Angels did on precursor, Phosphene Dream, but this is where the saying 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' readily applies.
As with most psychedelia releases, and therefore all output by the Black Angels, the production on Indigo Meadow is dense. On most songs the guitar, bass and drums are stirred into an impenetrable paste of sound, with the vocals drowning somewhere in the middle. A notable exception to this is 'Holland', which might be the cleanest the band has ever sounded, thanks to a crisp guitar melody and the sudden appearance of an ambient synthesizer.
The somewhat macabre lyrics on this record contrast the hippie feel of the music, with Maas proclaiming "It's hard to kill when you don't know who's side you're on" on 'Broken Soldier' and telling the tale of professional killers, Josephine and Angie, "The demon with Lucifer eyes" on 'Don't Play With Guns'.
If you're in need of a new addition for your 60's psychedelica playlist, look no further than the Black Angels' Indigo Meadow; turn on, tune in and drop out.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
Few artists in today’s indie scene have as prolific a back catalogue as Kurt Vile. In the space of seven years, he’s managed to release six solo albums, six EPs, and two albums with his former band The War On Drugs (who received critical acclaim themselves with 2014’s instant classic Lost In the Dream). Suffice it say, Kurt Vile has cultivated a mystique around himself that makes every release a bonafide event on the musical calendar, and the complicatedly named release b’lieve I’m goin down… is part and parcel of that.
The album’s opener and debut single, ‘Pretty Pimpin’, is a bittersweet ode to Kurt’s youth, and is a damning indictment of the façade of “hip” that many indie artists have created. Singing “I woke up this morning/Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror/ Then I laughed and I said, Oh silly me, that’s just me”, you can really feel Vile’s dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the scene. The introduction of subtle synth tones towards the end of the track gives it an almost orchestral quality, undercutting the bluesy folk-style guitar rather nicely.
The album is interspersed with smatterings of soulful neo-Americana, with the album’s second track, ‘I’m An Outlaw’, sounding a little like a modern day Johnny Cash. The layering of banjo, guitar, and electric organ harkens back to the romantic notions of driving down Route 66 with the top down. The neo-Americana style doesn’t end there, with the later track ‘All in a Daze Work’ being one of the best songs released I’ve heard in a long time. Vile’s imperfect yet beautiful vocals dance with his guitar, telling the abstract story of a damaging former love. With long parts of the song being instrumental, the sparseness of the instrumentation and vocals is haunting to say the least.
That’s not to say that the album is unrelenting in its melancholy vibe. The next track, ‘Lost My Head’, shows some slight old-school r&b vibes, with piano taking the forefront instead of guitar, and a rising dreamy synth section in the middle, this track is a testament to the diversity of Vile’s inspiration and his musical versatility, sounding like something ‘The Moody Blues’ would have released in the 60s.
So remember what was said earlier about every Kurt Vile release being an event? Well the man doesn’t disappoint; this is easily one of the best albums of the year. Not a single moment, note, lyric or beat is wasted and all these things come together to create some incredible musical moments. I cannot say this clearly enough; listen to this album now. Listen to it, and then listen to it again.