Music » Noah Bonaparte Pais: On the Record

Interview: The Black Angels


Nov. 16

Black Angels with Black Mountain

10 p.m. Tuesday

Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477;

Tickets $15

The sea change in the Black Angels' third LP, September release Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon), is apparent before ever dropping a needle or pressing play. It's right there in the track list, a 10-song, 36-minute sprint roughly equivalent to the droning marathons that eventually closed out its two predecessors: "Call to Arms" (18 minutes, from 2006 debut Passover) and "Snake in the Grass" (16 minutes, off 2008's Directions to See a Ghost). That's what working with an editor will do, says singer/guitarist Alex Maas, who enlisted producer David Sardy (Rolling Stones, Oasis, Spoon, et. al.) to extract the pith from the Austin, Texas, band's never-ending, pathologically spiraling psych/rock nightmares.

The Black Angels' sound evolves on the band's latest release.
  • The Black Angels' sound evolves on the band's latest release.

  "It's really strange — we've never worked with a producer before," Maas says. "Dave was really cool. He really spoke our language. We're kind of stubborn when it comes to songwriting. He was really encouraging in terms of getting us to try things we haven't normally done, or normally wouldn't do as a band: less reverb, shorter songs, trusting the sound of our instruments. ... We sent him, I think, 30 or 40 songs and asked him to pick his favorite ones. We kind of went from there."

  The 10 that made the cut are a new breed of Black Angels music — still swathed in echoing effects, still swirling to the point of sonic vertigo, but now more succinct, with boogieing grooves replacing apocalyptic drones and a solid pop foundation, however drug-addled and askew, built from melodic mortar and blues-guitar bricks. Maas' gravedigger howls still ring out over guitarist Christian Bland's buzzing six-string leads on glowering opener "Bad Vibrations," but "Haunting at 1300 McKinley," despite its subject matter, follows with a hip-shaking shimmy, more Roky Erickson (with whom the band has collaborated) than its namesake Velvet Underground.

  That Austin address holds special significance for the band, Maas laughs as an aside: "It's the house that we used to live in, actually. Kind of '70s style, shag carpet. It's like an old porn mansion or something. I never saw anything, but apparently it was haunted. Stephanie (Bailey) and Christian (Bland) would actually see apparitions in the washer room and hear weird voices at night. One day Christian came to me with that riff. The song's kind of written from both the perspective of the little girl and the people living in the house."

  There's still a liberal draping of the "drone machine," however, a hand-cranked, foot-pumped oddity that's a staple of the band's doomsayer sound. Maas likens it to a butter churn. "It's kind of a transistor organ," he says. "This one was actually made by a guy who used to make sirens for air raids in the '40s, a German-made thing from the early '30s."

  Though the Heart of Darkness-conjuring warfare carnage takes a backseat on Phosphene Dream, Maas feels it's less a political move than a transitional one. "It's a little more subtle lyrically," he says. "As a band, one of our goals is to evolve without losing that aspect or that kind of feeling that we've created. The songs still can sound like Black Angels songs. Live, we can play however long we want. That's one of the things we did with this new record: trimmed the fat on a couple songs, and got to the core meat of the song."

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