The Black Angels have been around longer than most people probably expect. Passover created a nice, solid audience for their psychedelic rock and old school tone. Movies like No Country For Old Men have featured their biggest hit, “Young Men Dead,” and it’s thanks to that initial film trailer that pulled my interest into the band, which has yet to truly dissipate. Few bands have even been able to pull off creating fuzzy rock music on a full record, but The Black Angels are never disappointing in the dying genre. In their 8th year as a band, Clear Lake Forest marks their 9th music release to date. The big question is whether their sound has aged well over that time, and while they have never quite reached the greatness of their full length debut, Clear Lake Forest is a step in the right direction.
If you have been a listened to The Black Angels in the past, the palette of sounds remains unaltered. There are still old school guitar chords and slower drum lines to thoroughly enjoy. They even take the older sound seriously enough to produce songs into echoplex vocal styling and dull the tone for most of the instrumentation. Typically, this idea to dumb down a band’s sound would be a negative, but The Black Angels have tinkered with the practice long enough to strike the right balance. That’s not to say every song is perfectly mixed on Clear Lake Forest, but the package still works as a whole.
Clear Lake Forest features a lot of strong tracks from The Black Angels, but it also has a few letdowns to make the ride a bit bumpy. “Sunday Evening” leads off the attack and sets the tone well, along with a strong sense of old school rock with a simple beat and spaced-out vocals. The middle creates a solid variety with a faster breakdown leading into the lo-fi guitar riff that ends the track. “Diamond Eyes” thrills equally as much, featuring a strong bass line, trippy guitar leads, and vocals that remain primitive in style, fitting the fun love story told in the lyrics. “The Flop” is the biggest curve ball of the EP, giving the lead to a catchy organ lead. The organ almost forces the guitar to speed up at the correct moments, despite hurting the vocal delivery a bit. The best track is definitely “The Executioner,” being one of the best songs in The Black Angels’ discography. This is easily the catchiest and best written song of the group, while also featuring the best breakdown and instrumentation as well.
There are a few slight disappointments to note though. “Tired Eyes” is a decent song to experience, but, as a whole, the vocals and lyrics are not compelling enough to really pull a listener into the interesting guitar lead. The closing track is where they decide to experiment the most, but it ends up not working at all; despite a guitar that builds well and some good harmonized vocal mixing, the song is at least two minutes too long and the lyrics are repeated far too often. The main problem with the EP is how each song does not build into one another good enough, making the whole ride disjointed and seem more like a random mixture of tracks.
Clear Lake Forest display plenty of reasons as to why The Black Angels are a worthy torch bearer for psychedelic rock, but also what holds them back as well. The writing for the EP is considerably better, while the simple instrumentation is equally impressive, and one could argue this is what the newest Black Keys album could have taken notes from. Even if a few tracks are too dull for their own good and they do end on the worst song of the group, this is still a very solid EP that is worth a listen.
1. Sunday Evening
2. Tired Eyes
3. Diamond Eyes
4. The Flop
5. An Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street
6. The Executioner
7. Linda’s Gone