The Black Angels were formed in 2004. Lyrically, the band leans towards issues of social tragedy, economic injustice, and political unrest. Lead singer and bassist Alex Maas confronts gun crime, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, young lives lost in war, and the United States involvement in the Middle-East. Musically, Stephanie Bailey (drums), Christian Bland (Guitar), Kyle Hunt (Keys) and Jake Garcia (Guitar) concoct a visceral, unstable and, at times, sinister atmosphere.
The Black Angels, arrived in a music scene dominated by the short, sharp punk-pop songs of The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys. Many Black Angles songs stretch to six minutes with vocals drenched in reverb and lyrics that drew on the teachings of Jason Pierce. The band’s sound has often been referred to as reincarnation of nineteen sixties garage meets psychedelia.
# 10 – Telephone
“Telephone,” is part homage and part post-modern interpretation of 60’s garage rock. Released on the seminal Phosphene Dreams (2010) telephone is an upbeat pyschobilly groove complete with primal screams and winding distorted guitar. The organ drifts in and out like a blitz siren as the band cram their signature depth and texture into a simplistic pop structure. The song “Telephone,” is cut with a slow, lo-fi edit that appears in the intro and bridge, a nod to the faithful recreation of a retro sound. Tongue in cheek it may be, but telephone is still a great song and a highlight of The Black Angels impressive catalog.
# 9 – Better Off Alone
Heavy on distortion and delay, “Better Off Alone,” is a modern classic. The song deals with themes of drug abuse against a backdrop of an increasingly sinister tribal drum beat. Released on the band’s debut album Passover (2006) “Better Off Alone,” creates a creepy sleep-deprived solitude through its desert blues guitar licks and aloof strained vocals.
# 8 – Always Maybe
The great Black Angels song, “Always Maybe,” is a hauntingly strung out psychedelic rock song. The sinister descending guitar line sits ominously on a grooving bass line and simple surf drum. The song was taken from the band’s fourth album Indigo Meadow. The song “Always Maybe,” displays the Black Angels increasing confidence in the studio and their appetite for experimenting with sound. Beneath the distortion, delay and tremolo is a unique medley of backwards recordings, organs and echoing vocals. Individually, they are almost unnoticeable but together, these sounds create an intriguing inner soundscape. A soundscape that gradually increases in volume and frequency before the song erupts into a heavy three chord classic rock guitar riff.
# 7 – Broken Soldier
What differentiates The Black Angels from so many other bands of this genre is the depth of their lyrics and sound. “Broken Soldier,” is a song about post-traumatic stress disorder. The song is told from the perspective of a returning soldier. It expresses the confusion and horror of war as well as the irreversible changes war has on the soldiers who experience it. Musically, the song uses a military marching drum roll and sharp hammering power chords to mirror the serious lyrical themes.
# 6 – Yellow Elevators
An experiential anthem pulled from the minds of the sixties generation and projected onto the modern era, “Yellow Elevators,” is an epic masterpiece that describes a spiritual awakening through the use of mind altering substance. Where the sixties expressed experimentation in earnest, the modern reincarnation is tainted by an underlying cynicism. The lyrics cover three themes of light, truth and fire. Each of these has the capability to both awaken and burn the user. Commencing with an upbeat rhythm and structure, “Yellow Elevator,” is imbued with a sinister carnival organ that drifts in and out of the songs in tandem with the vocals. What elevates this song above its peers is the inspired ethereal bridge. Crossing over from a tight pop song into a Pink Floyd-esque masterpiece.
# 5 – Sunday Afternoon
The Black Angels have never shied away or tried to hide their influences. They present them proudly with the confidence that their music is not imitating but redefining those influences. The song “Sunday Afternoon,” is a heady mix of picked chords and electric jug playing. The arrangement was a clear testament to the influence of Tommy Hall and the 13th Floor Elevators. The song was written and recorded a year after The Black Angels accompanied Roky Erikson of The 13th floor Elevators on tour. The great song “Sunday Afternoon,” is a fitting homage to Austin, Texas and the State’s timeless psychedelic rock bands.
# 4 – Black Isn’t Black
The song´Black Isn’t Black´ is The Black Angels at their experimental best. The song opens with a muted bass-line that crawls over the song’s desperate vocal. The first half is a minimalist treat that deals with themes of misconception. The second half takes those lyrical themes to a meta-level as the song drops into a techno EDM-inspired hook that is equal parts unique and exhilarating. “Black Isn’t Black,” is almost unrecognizable from The Black Angels classic sound. It is the product of a band that would not compromise on originality or experimentation.
# 3 – Young Men Dead
From the guitar’s opening blues based riff to its sensational climax, “Young Men Dead,” is the song that encapsulates all the best elements of The Black Angels. An unhinged wailing vocal atop a distorted growling behemoth of guitars, drums and bass. It was the song that came to define the band and redefine the genre of modern psychedelic rock music. The lyrics deal literally in the impact of war on the collective conscience and metaphorically on the blights of addiction in society. The songs Gothic overtones and ominous atmosphere establish a poignant representation of a society drunk on fear and violence.
# 2 – Don´t Play With Guns
The Black Angels take their name from the Velvet Underground´s ´Black Angel Death Song,´ and this number from their fourth album tells you why. The songs fuzz tone riff, looping organs and white noise drum beat is clearly influenced by ´The Velvet Underground´s´ ´White Light, White Heat.´ Lyrically, the song adopts a trope of Lou Reed by eulogizing the words of a girl named Josephine. It confronts issues of gun crime that has been a constant problem in American society particularly in southern states like Texas. The chorus is an epic, infectious melody that explodes from the song’s textured musical depth.
# 1 – Bad Vibrations
The haunting repetitive synth compliments the minimalist reverb drenched guitar riff in this rock and roll classic. Beneath the treble, an incessant growling rhythm section provides the engine to this anthem. The lyrics draw on Pink Floyd´s ´Wish You Were Here,´ but re-establishes them in the context of the 21st century. In place of the earnest sincerity that defined so many sixties era bands is a darker, cynical mood. The gothic, tribal atmosphere created by the bands texturing of effects and melodies is the perfect accompaniment to the song’s deranged vocals. ´Bad Vibrations´ set the bar for all aspiring psychedelic rock bands. An instant classic.