The unapologetically lo-fi, imperfect recordings; the discordant, impassioned political balladry punctuated by frustrated calls-to-action; the telltale, metallic sojourns of psychedelic rock: at first play, Indigo Meadow, the latest from The Black Angels, sounds like it could’ve been ripped from a bin of vinyl discarded from the shelves of the ’60s.
Rife with desperate concern, anger and an un-ignorable need to do something about various blights on society brought on by the government, The Black Angels aren’t simply a band that sounds like they’re ripping themes and stylistic cues from bands that protested the Vietnam War and its aftermath in 4/4 time. They’re taking advantage of these similarities and genre affiliations to prove that times may change and the war may have a different name, but these problems stay the same–and that a band should be singing about them all without a filter, be it 1973 or 2013.
“I think art has always been a reaction to society,” says lead singer Alex Maas, calling in from the road. For The Black Angels, who hail from Austin, their Southern roots provide a particularly unique place from which to unpack issues like gun violence and the confrontation of conflict in the Middle East over the course of the record’s 13 tracks. “I think with those societal pressures, our songs are more our reaction to what’s happening, whether it’s promoting the good of the nation or describing what the faults of it are. Living in Texas has a play in what we’re doing but it isn’t really a pressure for us to speak out directly, because outside Austin, things are really weird. If you grew up in the Bible Belt and you’re surrounded by these scary laws … it’s kind of a scary thing, really. Thankfully, we’re changing as a nation, we’re moving forward and becoming more socially involved.”
As the first single off Indigo Meadow is “Don’t Play With Guns” and the subject matter pertains to the blunt, no-room-for-interpretation title, the tone set by The Black Angels is one of inspirational discontent, where stanzas are ripped from the headlines and each chorus reminds the listener that if you’re not paying attention, you’re part of the problem. “Broken Soldier” resonates especially on this frontline, as Maas passionately launches into a discussion on the terrifying, growing suicide rate amongst veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This isn’t new ground for The Black Angels, as they’ve never been a band to shy away from tough talking points. It is a stronger platform for them, in that they feel as though they’ve gotten to a point where they can drop the pretense and be more upfront with listeners than ever before.
“I don’t know going into a song how it’s going to turn out at the end of the day,” says Maas. “It’s like a documentary: you make this song, and you have this one principle you’re focusing on, and after you do the entire record, you realize that because of other factors that are making the principle move and act in a certain way, that’s what the story is. The story no longer becomes about the principle at all; it becomes about everything else around it. There’s some kind of correlation there with our music and what we sometimes achieve. I think the reason why we do have any kind of political undertone or whatever you want to call it is because we care about what’s happening in the world. We can talk about cars and boobs and shit like that but it just doesn’t do anything for us.”
“It’s kind of hard to tell if it’s our most political record, but it’s probably less subtle,” he continues. “It’s more direct. “The record has dark elements, but it blossoms–it isn’t brooding and dark. I think that if you have a song that has more of a pretty vibe but it’s less groovy with the lyrical content, that dichotomy is moving to me. It can be striking in a way. It just has all the elements of our music and we’re at–it’s just a documentation of where we are.”
Black Angels perform tonight at Bell House.