The Black Angels should issue warning labels on their albums: “Do not listen to while operating heavy machinery.”
While the Austin, Texas band’s music is hardly a snooze-fest, its hypnotic qualities can induce a trance-like state, which listeners are invited to experience first hand at Slim’s on Friday.
“Phosphene Dream,” the band’s third album, boasts its trademark heavy, layered, psychedelic sound, but is more complex and sophisticated.
“I think these songs have more sonic movement,” says frontman Alex Maas. “They go more places than the average Black Angels songs do.”
“Bad Vibrations,” the album’s opening song, exemplifies the change as it transforms from a chugging, minor-key twang into a climactic, lush frenzy of sound.
But the music isn’t the only thing that’s changed.
“We’re also trying to use the vocals in a different way than we have before,” Maas says. Once embedded in dense soundscapes, vocals in the new material are more pronounced but not distracting.
The Black Angels have strong geographic ties to the origins of the 1960s psychedelic sound.
“Most people think the psych scene started in San Francisco, but the actual idea of psychedelic rock and roll was created in Austin by the 13th Floor Elevators, who brought it to San Francisco,” Maas says.
The Elevators were one of the first bands to develop what became known as psychedelic rock, associated with growing drug experimentation of the time. When the Elevators went on tour in San Francisco, the sound received increased visibility and attention.
“We liked the music from that era and wanted to recreate it,” Maas says. “In the very beginning when you don’t have a specific sound to your music, you just have reference points for what you want to sound like.”
Moving beyond mimicking their influences, the Black Angels have created something distinct. The music is heavier than the jangling ruckus of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, more drone-friendly than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and has a darker sense of gaze than the layered reverberations of Serena Maneesh.
If there was a book of hymns to the church of the current psychedelic scene, the Black Angels would be its J.S. Bach, revered for their breadth of sonic capacity and tightly crafted, cohesive sound.
The rockers are part of a family-like micro-community that spans the globe. Bands from Australia to Europe to the U.S. tour together and open their doors to one another for everything from couch surfing to barbecues.
“There’s not a lot of jealousy or maliciousness. It defeats the purpose of the music and the genre,” Maas says. “The warmth of the scene is part of the magic. If the psych family is already like that, what if the psych sound took over the airwaves? It makes you wonder what could happen to the world.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 255-0333, www.slims-sf.com