Our new video series presents a closer look at -- and an exclusive performance from -- the cool artists hitting the Billboard Tastemakers chart, which brings you the top-selling albums each week based on an influential panel of indie stores and small regional chains.
The Black Angels Live: Billboard Tastemakers
The Billboard.com Tastemakers roof deck at Mophonics Studio in New York was more crowded than usual during load for our latest installment of the series. A steady stream of gear passed through the studio and countless pedal boards were laid out as The Black Angels -- Alex Maas (lead vocals), Stephanie Bailey (drums), Christian Bland (guitar/vocals), Kyle Hunt (bass/organ) and Nate Ryan (bass) -- soundchecked as the sun set. That day, Billboard's cameras and a few stoked neighbors were treated to a performance of tracks from the band's Sept. 14 album "Phosphene Dream."
The Angels left their Austin home base to record their third full-length in Los Angeles with producer Dave Sardy, and the resulting 11 tracks could easily be the soundtrack for a Tarantino-directed Timothy Leary biopic. A groovier and more upbeat album, "Phosphene" is a clear departure from the band's darker, jam-heavy previous releases.
Video Below: The Black Angels perform "Bad Vibrations."
Drummer Stephanie Bailey says that adding more traditional production to their writing process helped them develop a new sound and sort through the 30-plus songs they brought to the table. "It was like having a sixth band member or a mirror. It was a reflection of what we were doing already and a way to look at it and figure out how to make it better."
Singer Alex Maas adds that, "For this record we wanted something to be happening all the time; we didn't want any down time. It was about getting to the core of the song."
The first single, "Telephone" is classically catchy '60s retro-pop drenched in Maas' verb-y vocals and Morrison-esque howls. The corresponding music video, another proper first for The Angels, features the band donning creepy masks at a diner counter.
Video Below: The Black Angels perform "Haunting At 1300 McKinley"
Comparisons are frequent - from classic rockers The Doors to lesser-known heavy-hitters The Warlocks - but in a sea of chillwave, The Angels have carved themselves a space for their own sound. The band's name is borrowed from "The Black Angel's Death Song," a track from the debut album by The Velvet Underground, one of their many musical influences.
The band was luck enough to catch the eye of another of its influences in 2008 when they hit the road with Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators. The band found themselves consistently in awe of his talent and presence on stage.
"I remember Christian and I going to see Roky and we were daydreaming about how cool it would be to be his backing band. Two months later, his manager called us and asked if we wanted to go on tour. It was a great opportunity to play with one of our heroes."
You can catch The Black Angels this fall on their own aptly titled Drop Out Boogie tour with Black Mountain. "If there's a city that likes music," Maas quips, "we'll probably be playing there."
Text by Lisa Binkert