Friday, January 05, 2007

album review: The Black Angels - Passover

With this review, extrawack! welcomes new contributor John Byrne.

In the liner notes for their new album, Passover, The Black Angels thank Anton Newcombe and Brian Jonestown Massacre. This gave me pause, as I’m not a fan of BJM (though I was sure I was after watching Dig! ...went out, bought me one of their albums... but outside the confines of the film the music fell flat). Going into my initial listening, I hoped for something heavy on good songs and light on sitar, you dig? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

What do they sound like? Stephanie Bailey’s drumming is primal and heavy, like it was recorded at the bottom of a well. Alex Maas’ voice is sinister, snarling and suggestive; he sings like he knows something and he’s pissed you don’t know it too. Jennifer Raines plays something identified as a "drone machine", which when I saw them live seemed to be a glorified keyboard, but it definitely contributes to the mix. The guitars are fuzzy, thick and dominating. There isn’t a bad song on Passover, but the highlights are the opener, "Young Men Dead" (it just POUNDS), second track "The First Vietnamese War" (featuring a ripping guitar), "The Sniper At The Gates of Heaven" (Maas’ grunts and huffs are killer), "Manipulation" (with cool trade-off vocals between Maas and robotic-sounding guitarist Christian Bland) and "Bloodhounds on My Trail"..

The Black Angels earn points for not making an album of 17 songs and 78 minutes. Passover runs 58 minutes, but the run time is extended because of a gap between the end of the closer, "Call To Arms", and a hidden track (the only negative...I don’t mind hidden tracks, but why do I have to endure multiple minutes of silence to hear it?). Instead, there are ten proper songs and everything works.

Do they sound like they’re from another decade, like the 60s? Yes. Do they sound like other bands you’ve heard? Probably...don’t most bands remind you of other bands? The sludge and murky sound of some songs remind me of early Black Sabbath, while the ability of The Black Angels to make cool songs and still sound, with varying degrees, pissed, blissed-out and mysterious, reminded me of the Verve songs I like the most. I’ve spent hours and days listening to Passover on repeat and I’m still not sick of it, which is the highest praise I can give any album. On my first listen, when one song ended, I kind of dreaded the next, for I was sure the "bad songs" that dog most albums were upcoming. They never showed. Ten songs with no junk to be found? These guys need to be heard, because Passover just may be the best record of 2006. (John Byrne)

The Black Angels - "The First Vietnamese War" mp3 buy

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