The fifth full-length album by The Black Angels, released on April 21st.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
The Black Angels sound like a late-60s band with access to modern recording equipment. Heaven, basically.
Death Song is nearly their best effort (2010’s Phosphene Dream still takes that title). It’s also a huge improvement over their last full-length release, Indigo Meadow (2013), which had me fearing for my future with the band. Indigo was unfocused and uneven and weirdly flirting with pop-psychadelia; an album I only listened to a handful of times before sticking three songs on my iPod and calling it a day. Thankfully, starting with the Clear Lake Forest EP (2014) and now with Death Song, The Black Angels are back on track.
The prog/drone/keyboard-heavy elements of earlier Black Angels work has been minimized as the group moves toward tighter, rock-based songs, making Death Song their most accessible, consistent album. Consistency comes with some drawbacks: Death Song feels repetitive in parts and while there are no bad songs, there are no great ones, either.
If they’re going to lose most of the keyboards, at least they’re keeping their incredible guitar sound. The mix and tone on Death Song is fantastic; The Velvet Underground meets 80s R.E.M.
I’ll never hold this band up for their lyrics (lyrics are at the bottom of the list in what I look for in a band, anyway). With Death Song, The Black Angels continue to swipe at The Man, the establishment, and capitalism in ways that twenty-somethings have latched onto for generations. From “Currency”:
There’s no God in who you trust
Print and print the money that you spend
Spend and spend the money that you print (…)
You’ve paid with your life
A slave from nine to five
Alex Maas sings with conviction, though, and I buy his belief in his sentiments, even if I don’t fist pump at vague-angry-with-no-solution messages like I used to. (Hating The Suits for having jobs and money and assuming they hate themselves is a gross simplification. But, hey, this is rock. What else are we doing here?) Maas has a great voice, no matter what the message is. When he sings “It’s kind of seductive” in “Estimate”, it is exactly that.
Death Song (much like Grandaddy’s Last Place [review]) is a solid addition for fans and a good starting album for new listeners. The Black Angels always make it worth your while to buy hard copies of their work; go with CD or vinyl if you have the choice.
Standout track: Estimate
A bonus Black Angels Top 10:
10. Black Grease (Passover, 2008)
9. Half Believing (Death Song, 2017)
8. 18 Years (Directions to See a Ghost, 2008)
7. Estimate (Death Song, 2017)
6. Diamond Eyes (Clear Lake Forest, 2014)
5. Haunting at 1300 McKinley (Phosphene Dream, 2010)
4. Melanie’s Melody (Phosgene Nightmare, 2011)
3. Manipulation (Passover, 2006)
2. Doves (Directions to See a Ghost, 2008)
1. Phosphene Dream (Phosphene Dream, 2010)1
(If you have Amazon Prime, The Black Angels’ past albums are streaming for free.)