The Right Track
The EP may be the perfect format for the Black Angels. Whereas previous release, Indigo Meadow, was drawn out and uninspired, Clear Forest Lake is punchy and immediately draws you in. This is the Black Angels name-checking their favorite psychedelic acts as much as it is the quintet forging their own ’60s-inspired path.
Opener “Sunday Evening” slams into your ears with driving arpeggios before the nearly paranoid vocals of Alex Maas slow it down to a comfortable groove. “What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even true?” Maas ponders. The song waxes existential before “Tired Eyes” kicks in and Maas begs you not to fall in love.
Clear Lake Forest acts as a surprisingly insightful record, or at least its immediate points feel like random words of wisdom. For a band whose lyrics tend to lack the necessary subtlety to draw any further interpretation from its listeners, “Tired Eyes” may be the bleary answer to the Black Angels’ eloquence problem. However, by the time the organ-heavy track “The Flop” gets rolling, it’s back to repetitive lyrics awash in nearly as much reverb as the guitars that back the harmonies. The penultimate track “The Executioner” is most definitely the album’s come down, a slight reflection of mortality clouded in pot smoke.
If the album were to end there, it would be safe to say that the Black Angels had thoroughly crafted a success. But it doesn’t. As soon as you think the band has redeemed themselves from a sound steeped in such a derivative place, “Linda’s Gone” starts playing and the frustration of the Black Angels being a good throwback band comes roaring back. It’d be better suited alongside a Doors cover band. “Linda’s Gone” is a very catchy tune but so much of a rip-off of the band’s musical forefathers that it almost calls their own legitimacy into question.
Once you get past these points, Clear Lake Forest shines. The Black Angels have spent the time toiling away as an outfit playing to the nostalgia of an era that most of its listeners weren’t alive to see. This Record Store Day-only release may give them the courage to pursue more than a stoner’s apathetic interest in making music. It has hope that a band whose very name is taken from a Velvet Underground song can become more than its influences without too much stumbling in between.