Posts Tagged ‘Black Angels’

Greatest Songs of the 21st Century… So Far: An Idiosyncratic List.

September 10, 2013

885Songs of New MilleniumThe thirteenth year of the 21st century doesn’t seem to be the right time to look back on the best of the millennium.  Those lists usually come on the decade and quarter century marks.  But I was asked to compile another Top Ten list for Echoes affiliate, WXPN in Philadelphia.  This time, the impossible assignment was picking the Top Ten Greatest Songs of the New Millennium for their 885 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium Countdown This is never an easy task but it made me think of the songs I keep coming back to, the songs that haven’t left my iPhone where music is constantly being cycled off to make room for new material.

One thing I like about this list is it takes classic rock, new wave, progressive rock and just about everything else I grew up with out of the equation.  In my 885 Best Rock Songs list I picked The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” as number one and wrote that “I think any of 10 tunes by The Rolling Stones could be on this list.”  On this  list, there aren’t any great new Rolling Stones tunes in this century.  Nor are there any great new Pink Floyd, The Who or Hendrix tunes to be found.   Six of my ten songs are from artists who began recording in the 2000’s

Because it is greatest “songs,” I left out instrumentals, except for one, which, in an admittedly idiosyncratic move, I made number 1.  For some reason, several of the tracks are from 2008.  It’s not much like the lists of other XPN hosts, and will certainly be nothing like the list that comes from their 885 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium Poll with listeners, but it’s my list.  Follow the link to vote for your own.  Voting ends September 16. At the bottom, I’ve got a Spotify Playlist of John Diliberto’s Top Ten Songs of the New Millennium, So Far.


1 Ulrich Schnauss “Clear Day”
StrangleyWhat a great way to start this list, a wash of white noise obliterating all that came before, then slowly a syncopated 4/4 snare groove rolls in, droning synth chords, a chilling melody and one of those classic Ulrich Schnauss choruses that hooks you on a train ride to ecstasy.  This is one of several tracks from Schnauss’ 2003 CD A Strangely Isolated Place that I could’ve picked. (See Five Best Ulrich Schnauss CDs).  Somebody should write lyrics for this. It’s waiting to be a hit.

2 Moby – Wait for Me
Wait for MeIn my review of this Echoes CD of the Month in July 2009 I wrote: “The title track is another song that seems to contemplate eternity of a lost soul.  It’s sung by Kelli Scarr, who has a fragility that breaks over the waves of Moby’s ghost rhythms, minimalist piano figure and sonic scrims.  She sings “I’m gonna ask you to look away, I lost my hands and it hurts to pray” like a half-remembered nursery rhyme, a paean to lost youth, a contemplation of the end.

It’s a heartbreaking song from an album that makes heartbreak beautiful and noble. (See Five Best Moby CDS) The video doesn’t quite fit the song, so just listen, or just watch.

3 Black Angels, “Yellow Elevator #2”
This is a song I often hit repeat on with my iPhone.  In fact, I just did again. Quoting the “Twilight Zone” theme and Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam,” with Question Mark & the Mysterian’s organ, The Black Angels paint a psychedelic landscape of oblivion this song from their album, Phosphene Dream.  I usually don’t like codas, but the coda for “Yellow Elevator #2” is the most poignant theme this band has recorded.  It was great this year to hear them return it to their live performances after excising it the previous couple of tours.  Excuse me while I kiss these guys. (Review of Album & performance:

Western4 Loner – “Already Numb” Is heartbreak a theme of this list?  It doesn’t get more forlorn than Loner’s song of lost innocence sung in a beautiful alto over a spare, Satie-like piano theme backed by organ.  The line that gets me every time is

“Album covers, I don’t know how.  Could move me once, but cannot now.”

It’s from his album, Western Sci-Fi which is full of beautiful chamber pop.

UNQOTSA5 Olivier Libaux “Go With the Flow” After that heartbreak, I need some joy.  “Go with the Flow” is easily one the most jubilant tracks on Olivier Libaux’s album Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age the Echoes CD of the Month in July 2013. It’s a rollicking party played over a bouncing groove, with vocals provided by Iceland’s Emiliana Torrini.  The sound effects of a cheering audience are used as a musical element that amps-up the elation in QOTSA writer Josh Homme’s story about trying for love despite it all.

Lobotomy Ses6 Alu – “Circus Cosmos”
Alu paints a soundtrack from Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”).  It’s a three-ring psychosis with calliope organ spinning a tale of delirious love.  Rather than go gothic in tone, Alu’s is euphoric.  It also has an unforgettable chorus:

You are the photograph that I’ve never seen
You are my phantom, the fountain of dreams.
I’ve been living in a mortuary, my whole life long.

There’s more imagery in that one chorus than most musicians conjure for an entire CD and it’s delivered by Alu’s keening soprano with such aching and despair that I know there’s more behind this tune than Alu let on. It’s one of several great tunes from her underrated album, Lobotomy Sessions.

7 Agnes Obel – Riverside
The Danish born singer recorded a heartbreaking song about the ebb, flow and emotional turmoil of life’s currents. Obel brings her lilting, slightly slurred soprano to bear on lyrics of memory and loss.  Singing over a spare cyclical piano riff, she deftly layers her voice into plaintive harmonies that will have you swimming in her bittersweet stream.  Her debut, Philharmonics,  was the Echoes CD of the Month in January of 2012.

Gnarls-Odd-Couple8 Gnarls Barkley “Going On”
This may be the most anomalous track on this list. Gnarls Barkley made some crazed R&B that was retro-soul in its melodies, sung by Cee Lo Green, and futuristic in its arrangements from Danger Mouse.  “Crazy” is their massive hit, but I always loved this hyper-kinetic leaving song from The Odd Couple album with Cee Lo’s manic rap-inflected melody, the stop time rhythm and the gothic freak-out at the end.

Dandys-Earth9 Dandy Warhols – “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers A.K.A. the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty”
This is a hyped-up mix of Country-Jitterbug-New Orleans Voodoo psychedelia from Earth to Dandy Warhols. Courtney Taylor-Taylor rips it up in this hipster-jiving ode to speed and trucking, “jacked up on java and nicotine.”  I can’t get it out of my head. Check out this great video and it will be embedded in your head as well.

Beck-Modern10 Beck – “Chemtrails
Beck’s “Chemtrails” from his 2008 album Modern Guilt has one of those Pachelbel-style hooks that could go on forever. The song starts as a lament and turns in to an anthem of deep despair for humanity, while still somehow maintaining hope using chemtrail conspiracy theories as a metaphor.  I saw him do a great version of it with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at the Bowl that year and it stayed in my head thereafter despite the assholes sitting behind me. Even the pointless coda doesn’t ruin it.

John Diliberto’s 10 Best Songs of the New Millennium Spotify Playlist

John Diliberto (((echoes)))

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The Black Angels’ Joyful Darkness.

April 8, 2013

Black Angels Trip Out at Union Transfer

Black Angels-IndigoAustin psychedelic rockers The Black Angels create a sound that weaves joy and darkness layered under waves of reverb and shuddering tremolo guitar. That sound was heard in full hallucinogenic effect last night at Union Transfer in Philadelphia.  Playing behind their new CD, Indigo Meadow, the band essayed all of that album as well as much of their previous CD, Phosphene Dream.    Indigo Meadow is a more stripped down, rocked-out album than the more paisley patterned Phosphene Dream, but live those songs fit right in with repeated, distorted hypnotic guitar patterns drenched in echo from Christian Bland, doubled up alternately by Kyle Hunt and Rishi Dhir, that buoys up the nasal wail of lead singer Alex Maas.  All of it is held together by Stephanie Bailey’s rock-the-Rock-of-Gibraltar drums.  She may be one of the hardest hitting, and locked down drummers in rock.

Black Angels-PhospheneIndigo Meadow is an album full of songs about love relationships that might be most kindly characterized as ambivalent, if not outright antagonistic.  The title track laments a woman who “likes a hell of a show.” “Evil Things” brings out the Heavy Metal side of the band with the grinding, “Iron Man” riffing as Maas sings of his love interest, “We were both evil, doing evil things” and “Love is your gun,” a particularly fatalistic approach to romance to be sure.  A similar metaphor emerges on “Don’t Play with Guns.” Even on a song like “Love Me Forever” Maas sings that chorus more like it’s a prison sentence than a plea.

That darkness is not alleviated in other songs like “Holland,” about misadventures in Amsterdam, or the anti-war songs as psychological metaphor on “War on Holiday” and “Broken Soldier” both of which confront fear and uncertainty.

Their musical references were always more psych-garage rock than late sixties flower pop or San Franciso idylls.  Even though Pink Floyd asides always leak through the distorted haze, the vintage Farfisa and Reem electric organs signal their lineage in ? and the Mysterians, The Seeds and the Nuggets anthology.

In concert, The Black Angels immerse you in these songs.  They’ve upgraded their light show with a bigger screen and multi-layered panels that envelope the band within the op-art mirror image patterns they favor.   It reflects their shimmering, driving sound where Maas’ voice is barely intelligible within the web of reverb and slap-back echo he uses on almost every song.  While his singing is clear on their recordings, in concert he merges, sometimes incoherently, with the ricocheting guitars, becoming an instrumental effect more than a lyric vehicle.  He should probably dial down the reverb in concert, especially in  live room like Union Transfer.

They played several tracks off of Phosphene Dream.  “Entrance Song” drove down the endless hallucinogenic highway and “Bad Vibrations” still reverberates.  It was great to see them bring the coda back on “Yellow Elevator #2,” which they’d dropped in their last two Philadelphia performances.  You need an uplifting chorus of illumination sometimes.

In their early days, The Black Angels stretched out quite a bit more on tracks like “Snake in the Grass” and “Never/Ever. ” But these were unformed works that lacked a propulsive center.  Now that their song-writing skills are more finely honed, I’d like to see them bring that discipline to more improvised rave-ups, to use an old 60’s expression.

The Black Angels take you out of this world.

~John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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New Track from Black Angels

January 22, 2013

Black-Angels-Indigo-Meadow-Album-Cover-e1358880938544My favorite psychedelic band has new music coming out and have a teaser single that seems timely, “Don’t Play With Guns.”

It doesn’t totally blow me away, but lead singles from outside bands rarely do.  I’m looking forward to the new CD, Indigo Meadows, which comes out on April 2 with a tour to follow beginning April 4.

Trip Out.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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The Dandy Warhols and The Black Angels Trip Out in Philly.

November 8, 2010

Two retro-Psychedelic Bands Rewire an Era.

It was a psychedelic weekend in Philadelphia with two bands who are steeped in the sound and imagery of the late 60s,The Dandy Warhols and The Black Angels.  The Dandy Warhols, formed in 1993, are the veterans and at the Electric Factory on November 8, they took a stage adorned with giant hanging spherical rice lamps like you’d find at Ikea only their’s are stoked with colored lights and strobes.  Touring behind their recent Best of album, The Capitol Years 1995-2007, they pretty much played the hits from that era and wailed through them with abandon. “The Last High” was altered from a smooth synth-laden pop tune into a descent into hell with snarling guitars, drums of doom, and time-ticking synthesizer while “We Used to Be Friends” was revamped into a metal-edged charge.  Throughout, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström laid down sheets of guitar noise with serrated distortion, feedback squalls and jangling harmonics. They played 24 songs in about 90 minutes so they didn’t stretch out much, but they did turn “I Love You” into a raving improvised screamer.

The Dandys have always been a group who wore their references on their sleeves:  60s psychedelia, 80s New Wave, Krautrock, and that’s still the case although they make them all their own, whether it’s the modal drone of “Lou Weed,” the 60s psych-punk of “Boys Better” or the hyped-up mix of Country-Jitterbug-New Orleans Voodoo on “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers A.K.A. the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty.”

This was a less synthesizer oriented show than I expected. Zia McCabe stood in a small cockpit of synthesizers usually playing bass lines on a Korg with one hand while the other rattled a tambourine or maracas or was just planted sexily on her hip.  McCabe cuts such a cool stage presence, she could’ve just stood their snapping gum and made it work.  But she and drummer Brent DeBoer were in sync, laying down rock solid grooves, with DeBoer’s Hendrix-style freak-out haircut wreathed by his own cigarette smoke most of the night.  His drumming is simple and brutal and a contrast to his choir boy-pure vocal harmonies.

The Dandy’s pulled a lot of songs out of the closet, including “Genius” which they claimed not to have played in years.  You wouldn’t believe that to hear them lock into it, but perusing set lists from previous shows on the tour,  it’s not there.  You can see a lot of night-to-night variation like that as this band celebrates their career.  It wasn’t perfect.  Taylor-Taylor seemed to be struggling a bit vocally and on tracks like “Last of the Outlaw Truckers” he didn’t really get into the vocal character that makes that song such a psychotic trip.    But I’d never seen The Dandy Warhols before and this greatest hits pilgrimage tapped all the right buttons.

The night before was more retro psychedelia as The Black Angels skipped right past 80s new wave and 70s rock and plugged their guitars into the early psychedelic era represented in Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets collection.  From the surf drumming to the reverb drenched guitars,  this band sounds like they ingested all of Nuggets and the hallucinogens that inspired it.  Songs like “Sunday Afternoon” could’ve been on a 13th Floor Elevator album, including an “electric jug” effect, which makes sense since they backed up Roky Erickson for a while.  Taking the stage of the TLA in Philadelphia amidst strobe lights and an optical illusion backdrop, I felt tossed back to psychedelic ballrooms like the original Electric Factory, The Boston Tea Party and the Fillmore.  They twanged and screamed feedback through music drawn from their three albums, especially their latest CD, Phosphene Dream.

The Black Angels pour their 60s garage psychedelics through Velvet Underground drone and Jesus and Mary Chain angst.  Both guitarists used old style reverb that conjured up strobe-lit echoes of bands past but also created an enveloping cocoon of sound that was lanced by feedback and massaged with more tremolo than you’ll hear in a yodeling contest.  Through it all, Stephanie Bailey sits, pounding out big beat rhythms.

Their set was marred by an atrocious mix, with instruments buried and overdriven to unintended distortion.  Vocal harmonies were smeared and forced to shout, Alex Maas’s vocals lacked the subtlety and nuance you’ll find on the albums. Instead he drove home the lyrics in a tone that recalled an especially tense Question Mark, of ? and the Mysterians.   They even whipped out a bit of “96 Tears” organ on a song which is standard operating procedure for a group that quotes the “Twilight Zone” theme and early Pink Floyd all in one tune, “Yellow Elevator#2. ”

The Dandy Warhols and The Black Angels are groups that look back to a time when music was an experience of consciousness.  But they are reinventing it for a generation with different ears.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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