With five albums under their collective belts, Austin-based JOVM mainstays The Black Angels — currently Alex Maas (vocals, bass), Christian Bland (guitar), Stephanie Bailey (drums), Jake Garcia (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Ramiro Verdooren — have firmly cemented a unique take on psych rock that remains true to psych rock forebears like Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson, Arthur Lee, and The Velvet Underground, while thematically touching upon contemporary concerns.
Interestingly, during that same period of time, the members of the acclaimed Austin-based JOVM mainstays have also managed to build a global profile within the international psych rock scene, a profile that has been further cemented by their long-running celebration of all things psychedelic, Levitation Festival, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.
If you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of months, you may recall that this year is a big year in the band’s almost two decade history: Their sixth album — and first in over five years, Wilderness of Mirrors is slated for a Friday release through Partisan Records. Co-produced by the band and Brett Orrison with engineering by John Agnello, Wilderness of Mirrors reportedly finds the band attempting to achieve something fresh and new through a gentle and subtle refinement of the sound that has won them fans across the globe.
Throughout Wilderness of Mirrors‘ material, the band adds mellotron, string arrangements and an assortment of different keyboards to the mix, which adds different textures to their overall sound. Thematically, the album continues upon their long-held reputation for touching upon contemporary concerns — in particular, our uncertain and urgent moment of political tumult, the pandemic, and the ongoing devastation of the environment and its long-term implications to us and our descendants, among others.
So far I’ve written about three of the soon-to-be released album’s singles:
- “El Jardín,” a single, which at first glance is classic Black Angels: Bailey’s thunderous time keeping, Maas’ plaintive falsetto and supple bass lines paired with layers upon layers of guitar pyrotechnics and effects from Bland and Garcia — but the song’s sparking and brooding bridge sees the band adding bursts of twinkling Rhodes to the mix. Written from the perspective of our dear Mother Earth, “El Jardín” is a forceful and urgent warning to all of us: destroying the environment will ultimately lead to the destruction of humanity.
- “Firefly,” a loving yet classic Black Angels-like homage to 60s French pop, featuring a guest spot from Thievery Corporation‘s LouLou Ghelickhani, who contributes sultrily delivered vocals in French and English, alongside Maas’ imitable falsetto and paired with a hook-driven arrangement featuring reverb-drenched guitars, Maas’ supple and propulsive bass lines, some simple yet forceful timekeeping from Bailey and twinkling keys.
- “Without A Trace,” a bit of classic, Passover through Directions to See a Ghost-era Black Angels centered around fuzzy and distorted power chords, a reverb-drenched guitar solo, Bailey’s thunderous and propulsive time keeping paired with Maas’ imitable vocal delivery and supple bass lines. The song sonically and thematically is an eerie and brooding meditation that asks “is is still possible to be invincible when everyone else is expendable.”
“Empires Falling,” Wilderness of Mirrors‘ latest single may arguably be among the most politically charged songs on the entire album. Centered around scorching guitar riffs, Maas’ imitable falsetto, a propulsive and supple bass line and Bailey’s forceful time keeping, “Empires Falling” continues a run of material that harkens back to their earliest releases — but with an urgency that fits our desperate, uneasy time.
“‘Empires Falling’ is a critical and reflective plea that examines humanity’s repetitive art of violent mass destruction. As we say in the chorus, ‘it’s history on repeat.'” The Black Angels explain in press notes. ” We are living in a ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’, where it’s hard to tell what’s right from wrong, up from down, or the truth from lies as we navigate through these times where the fate of humanity is being refracted and reflected from one state of panic to another. The world is a ‘bleeding animal’ and we are left exhausted, polarized, and ‘pleading from street to bloody street.’ History has proven, time and time again, that without a drastic metamorphosis from our leaders, politics, and ultimately ourselves... ‘you can be the one who saves yourself, or you can watch it all go to hell.'”
Directed by Craig Staggs and featuring animation by Minnow Mountain, the accompanying video for “Empires Falling” captures humanity’s brutal and oppressive history endlessly repeating in front of a psychedelic hellscape.