The Black Angels float through tales of war, desire and psychedelic experiences with specific colors on their haunting new album, Indigo Meadow, dotting songs about assassins and gun safety alongside some upbeat mentions of cannibalism and the secrets of the universe. Their first single, “Don’t Play With Guns,” released in January, tinkers with all those topics behind an enticing guitar and Hammond organ fog—a welcome sample of an LP that’s sure to satisfy upon its April 2 release.
A chat with lead singer and bassist Alex Maas feels like one part philosophy-of-music class, two parts Buddhism retreat and a few pages from a neuroscience textbook. Simple questions about their darkly melodious sound quickly spiraled into a lofty cosmic discussion about beauty, war and Lou Reed.
PW: “I Hear Colors” is really about synesthesia, right? Like actually feeling or tasting sound?
Right! Yeah. It’s interesting that the limbic system, storing your imagination and memory, is right behind the ear. So, I guess there would be these misfires. Some people get it, and some people don’t.
Do you hear colors?
Most definitely. When we first started, we wanted to have an interchangeable set list we could change every single night. So, we attributed colors to each of our songs.
Your songs are consistently sinister, almost apocalyptic. Is this a goal or is that just your poetic style?
I think it’s probably what we’re attracted to in general. I remember the first time hearing the Velvet Underground, and it kind of blew my mind. [He walks into another room.] Oh, hey, what documentary is this? Um, sorry—my roommate is watching a Lou Reed documentary. Wow. Anyway.
Your music is very cinematic. Rolling Stone summed it up nicely, saying your third album, Phosphene Dream, “could soundtrack Easy Rider.”
Yeah. There’s this song we do called “The First Vietnamese War.” [He sings the riff.] I remember hearing Christian [Bland, their guitarist] playing that helicopter riff in my room. I remember hearing that, and it was a very obvious scene to me.
You deal with war a lot in your music. I read online how one guy described your music as something that helps get him ready for war.
That’s interesting. I guess every day is kind of like a battle. A search for meaning. The search for beauty is the path I’m on. Like the Buddhist saying: “If you can see the true beauty in a single blade of grass, how green it is, how the sun shines on it and feeds it, that’s enlightenment.” And this takes us to the song “Indigo Meadow.” What about when you look upon a field of blue bonnets? And you see this sprawling deep indigo color. If you can see the beauty in a single blade of grass, then wow, think about what a mind trip that scene is, to be blown away by all those deep blue bonnets.
Sun., April 7, 8pm. $17. With Allah-Lahs + Elephant Stone. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014