Over the past few years The Black Angels have emerged as the patriarchs and greatest ambassadors for modern psych rock. They’re from the psych-rich city of Austin, have been at it for longer than most and have used their stature to help along worthy up-and-comers. In 2008 they founded the Austin Psych Fest, the nation’s preeminent celebration of the genre. Their music is full of reverb and warble, acid trippiness, jangly tambourines and a certain menacing, droning heaviness all their own. It’s all gold to psych fans, but appealing to those not already immersed in the scene has been a different story. In 2010 they released Phosphene Dream, easily their most dynamic, energetic and focused album to date. It still droned, it was still heavy, it was still The Black Angels, but its tightened arrangements made it less intimidating and more appetizing on a broader scale. They even played the poppy, British Invasion-inspired single “Telephone” on Letterman.
The Black Angels’ fourth album, Indigo Meadow, isn’t nearly as approachable as its predecessor, existing more as an iteration of a particular, darkened Alice in Wonderland-esque aesthetic than as a collection of songs that pop individually. If Phosphene Dream was akin to speeding across a sun-scorched desert (which it kind of was), Indigo Meadow is a dark, suffocating, drowsily medicated trip through…well, actually, some kind of lightless indigo meadow is a pretty good way to describe the tonal setting for most of the album. The effects are eerier, and catchy rhythms and smooth verse-to-chorus transitions are secondary to instilling a sense of hazy, slowly creeping disorientation. The album, particularly on songs like “Evil Things,” “Holland” and “Twisted Light,” seems to wallow in its own darkness rather than thrusting forward with the energy and momentum that was present on Phosphene Dream or even previous Black Angels albums.
Helping fuel the album’s psychedelic wooziness is what sounds like a heavy Doors influence. On “The Day,” frontman Alex Maas sings with sing-song-y vocal inflections that immediately bring Jim Morrison to mind (there’s even a call to “run, run, run”). “Love Me Forever” features incredibly heavy, Morrison Hotel-era organ, and much of the organ work throughout the rest of the album is also reminiscent of Manzarek’s. War imagery is present as well on “Broken Soldier,” a song that proceeds like a march and step and notes how, “It’s hard to kill when you don’t know whose side you’re on.” But this isn’t exactly new territory for The Black Angels; one of their first singles, “The First Vietnamese War,” also tackled the ills and confusions of combat head-on.
Indigo Meadow’s catchiest song by far is “You’re Mine,” a track that lies in stark contrast to the rest of the album. It’s a driving, infectious and relatively poppy message to a lover, with neither party involved being able to—or deep down, wanting to—rid themselves of the other. It’s the album’s clear standout track, and part of the problem with Indigo Meadow is that there aren’t many tracks like “You’re Mine” that strike a deep and ringing chord like there have been on previous Black Angels albums. There are plenty of promising riffs and catchy little guitar lines throughout, but a lot of the time the songs they belong to don’t end up developing into anything you can really take home. They do help add texture to the dark but fresh psychedelic palette The Black Angels have cultivated, though. The album is a disjointed trip but a trip nonetheless, and few can take listeners on a wandering journey better than The Black Angels.