Album Review

Phosphene Dream

Phosphene Dream

by The Black Angels

5 / 10
19th October 2010

Reviewed by Michael Harvey

Phosphenes are flashes of light, seen without light actually entering the eye, usually induced by movement or sound. Phosphene Dream is the name of the third album by Austin, Texas psychedelic rockers the Black Angels. The band set the controls for somewhere between the feedback-drenched drones of the early Velvet Underground and the cosmic r&b of fellow Texans the 13th Floor Elevators (the Black Angels recently toured as the backing band of Elevators' frontman Roky Erickson). However, these are not especially unique influences, and the band often veer off into hammy pastiches of sixties psych sounds, like the the electric jug on "Sunday Afternoon", or the beamed-in-from-1967 midsection of "Yellow Elevator #2".

Still, Phosphene Dream has a tighter and more focused garage rock feel than on their debut Passover, or 2008's Directions To See A Ghost. There is nothing as unnecessarily epic as that latter album's 16 minute closer indeed, at 36 minutes the album whips by breezily. However, the sonic template is relatively unvaried throughout. All tracks feature organ drones, heavy tremolo guitar, repetitive drumming, and copious amounts of reverb on everything. It's probably safe to say that vocalist Alex Maas hasn't lightened up any (the first track is called "Bad Vibrations"), but his monotonous singing style renders the lyrics mostly unintelligible. Not to say that there isn't anything to enjoy here the stomping "True Believers" starts off with a country-blues rave up, while the upbeat "Telephone" wouldn't be out of place on a Nuggets-type compilation. It's fun, but its nothing new by any stretch of the imagination.

Sixties homage is one thing, but there's nothing on this album that's as instantly recognisable such as true classics of the era like "All Tomorrow's Parties" or "Slip Inside This House." The Black Angels have nailed their vintage sound, but Maas' commitment to melody-free singing means that a memorable hook remains elusive. Much like the album's namesake, there are flashes of brilliance here and there, but for the most part, this plays out like a half-remembered dream of the Summer of Love.

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