Smile Politely

Album Review: The Black Angels Directions to See a Ghost

Psych lovers, beware: If this article is introducing you to The Black Angels, there is reason to heed a real fear that, in the very near future, you won’t be removing this record from the player for months. Yes, we writers operate almost exclusively by use of hyperbole, but in all frankness, Directions to See a Ghost is the most illuminating psych record to have any popular appeal in my recent memory.

Like the greater moments of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Angels prove they know what it takes to make a great record by illustrating a jangly base with droned-out effects. The end result is an atmosphere of dynamic, mammoth proportions that feels like a dosed-out mindfuck. But those roots—those ever-important visible roots!—are so important, like being able to see the blueprint.

And yes, the band got its name from The Velvet Underground’s “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” It shows.

The real question is this: What makes Directions to See a Ghost stand out amongst the giant catalog of great psych records past? The answer is a far more complicated, different sort of beast. Perhaps it’s the enigmatic nature of Alex Maas’s vocals that recalls a cross between Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison: a strange combination, no doubt, but one that culls the best of both parties for sure.

Then there’s the vast restraint. Like a perfected recipe, there’s not too much (or too little) of anything. And finally, there’s the distinct feeling of contemporariness, the feeling that this record could not have been made without growing up listening to The Cure. Obviously, it’s a bit of all of these things, but somehow it’s ever more (and with each listen, it’s more and more).

A note of caution, however: the anomalous blender I’ve provided in an attempt to make sense of Directions to See a Ghost should not be considered a matter of mere arithmetic. Simply adding these references together yields a rather horrifying scenario. Rather, it’s the way The Black Angels manage to negotiate all of these things with their own visions that finds Directions to be a remarkable achievement. It’s smoky, it’s sultry, it’s loud as all get-out: ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

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