HERE'S THAT WORD again: "psychedelic."
It could very well be the most overused, misapplied, and misunderstood term used to identify music today. But that doesn't stop people like me from slapping it on almost anything with a fuzzy bass line, a buzzing organ, or any tune that meanders past the 10-plus-minute mark.
Austin quartet the Black Angels have been one of the most visible torchbearers of psychedelia since their formation in 2004. And guess what? Their self-awareness of whatever it is they do is just as nebulous as anyone else's. So it looks like we're all off the hook.
"If I hear a good band and it moves me in some emotional or spiritual way, it's 'psychedelic,'" explains vocalist Alex Maas. "If I dance to 'The Humpty Dance' in a Burger King bathroom in a nightgown, that, too, is psychedelic. Blurry lines are bountiful these days."
Whatever the qualifier, the Black Angels' new album, Indigo Meadow, balances Maas' quirky, tenor melodies and sophisticated cadences with an ear toward oft-referenced psych acts of the last 40 years (your Jefferson Airplanes, your Velvet Undergrounds, your Spacemen 3s). The Angels, though, dose their catalog with both the light and dark moments of heavy rock, stoking ample amounts of stoner grooves and heavy-lidded hooks out of tracks like the gloomy "Love Me Forever" or the bombastic garage-pop of "Don't Play with Guns."
"I'm most proud of our willingness to evolve and change," Maas says, "[to] blossom like a hibiscus. We are still like bamboo in its simplicity, but morphology is essential to survival."
The band headlined Austin's Psych Fest in April with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Deerhunter, and they're on a two-month-long US tour before heading to Australia and Europe, ostensibly to lull audiences into varying states of both catatonia and exultation. Their ability to progress from one to the next is among their biggest attributes as a band.
"We do like the contrast of lightness and darkness," says Maas. "One can't exist without the other. Put a child singing in a dark room and all of a sudden you have a scary movie."