CD REVIEW: The Black Angels’ “Phosphene Dream”

The Black Angels Phosphene Dream
Review by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express
10/5/2010

“Bad Vibrations” – another in the line of classic-rock song-title puns the Black Angels began with “Yesterday Always Knows” – kicks off Phosphene Dream, the group’s third LP, in stereotypically harrowing fashion. The twisting bass melody and stop-start vocals directly recall the Doors’ “Not to Touch the Earth,” and a startling rush of sped-up chaos follows the song’s final verse. Endlessly enjoyable for those of us who dig the dark stuff, but pretty standard Black Angels fare. The co-ed Austin psych-rockers have kept their recordings and performances tough, cool and often terrifying over the half-decade they’ve been purveying death and the unknown, and that’s how Phosphene Dream gets going; however, the new album throws a musical curveball by getting, of all things, whimsical.

“Sunday Afternoon,” for example, tells us via Amboy Dukes-style psychedelic surf-punk that “crystal visions of a Sunday” are “all right.” Subsequently, the bouncy/jangly “Telephone” and “Yellow Elevator #2” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lemon Pipers album or an Austin Powers soundtrack. Sure, singer Alex Maas and Co. have made the Black Angels famous by bringing a heavy dose of the ’60s to this millennium, but the emphatically dark side of the ’60s. On 2006’s “Sniper At the Gates of Heaven,” Maas set the tone for his band’s career by asking “What is it like when hell surrounds you?”; when Maas admits “I feel like laughing” during Phosphene Dream’s maniacal title track, one wonders how the singer cheered up so quickly. Let’s just hope the Black Angels tour with a designated driver.

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