Written By: Lauren Espina
Clear Lake Forest is a limited edition EP that was released on April 19th for Record Store Day. The seven track album features all new, previously unreleased songs.
“What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even really true?” begins Alex Maas of The Black Angels on “Sunday Evening,” the opening track of the Clear Lake Forest EP. Though the question alone tugs the threads of reality, luring the listener into what is sure to be an angst-ridden introspection on truth and the Universe, these opening words are a quick fake-out. The song quickly lightens into cheeky territory. “I don’t think that you know much, do ya? Not that anyone does now do they?” asserts Maas in his stoned cadence, breathing tranquil air into a soundscape that transitions between mid-tempo riffs and a chugging chorus.
The Black Angels are masters of sonic dichotomies–marrying the creepy and coy, dreary with the deranged, blending grime and charm, disaffected attitudes with blithe nonchalance–and this tradition continues on with the highlight of the EP, “Tired Eyes.” Considerably poppy for the group’s standards, the song is anchored by familiar layers of shuddering guitars led by Christian Bland. Those echoing, distorted tiers of sound, however, forfeit the front seat to the song’s bright guitar melody and the way Maas sings, “Please don’t fall out of love, you left me with a wooden heart.” The fuzz-pop result is both bright and dark and undeniably restless, much more erratic than the title “Tired Eyes” suggests.
After another lovely melody on the patient “Diamond Eyes,” the Clear Lake Forest EP turns itself over to creepy vibes for the next two tracks, particularly on “An Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street.” Driven by a pulsing organ line fit for a circus, the song nearly flatlines into monotony before it is saved by a back beat that kicks the rock and roll back in. Though “An Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street” never fully reaches the sinister vibes the Angels are so well known for, it does provoke an unsettling feeling of being left behind, as the song repeats: “No one comes for you,” over the unrelenting hum of the organ.
“The Executioner” starts off as somewhat of a slinky blues number before the band’s tongue-in-cheek inclinations take over. Less of a sonic commentary on religion and more of a declaration of moral unconcern, the Angels get right to the point: “If it feels good, do it again.” The song cycles from its clean opening riffs into a disorienting swirl of reverb and distortion, before returning to its initial sonic structure and repeating the same pattern, the same sonic dichotomy, because if it feels good…
While laced with menacing elements that The Black Angels have an unwavering affinity for, Clear Lake Forest is a glance toward the rock and roll of the 1960s–subtle yet effective in an era filled with artists who rip whole pages out of the sacred book of The Sixties. The Black Angels have no desire to rewrite that text, but the group appears to be transitioning into a new era, one distinctive for its understated and often warped references to the past. The last track of the album, “Linda’s Gone,” encapsulates this current phase. It begins with a slow, patient “do-do-do” intro, before the line “Mental halitosis for real” injects ít with a concentrated dose of the band’s cheeky, irreverent attitude, just enough to keep the song firmly in this decade. Yet, the steady tambourine beat and minute and half click-clack guitar outro, paired with the return of the “do-do-do” sing-a-long vocals, summon pure Velvet Underground energy.
Things in the land of The Angels are transitioning, moving forward and also looking back. So whether you’re still mourning the droney psych-freak outs of Directions to See the Ghost, or loved the rock-oriented Indigo Meadow, follow these Austin, Texas pioneers into the future. I have a feeling that, now ten years into their journey, they’re just getting started.