Black Angels keep pushing boundaries

Psychedelic rockers strive to add dimension, creativity to live shows

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If you go

What: The Black Angels, in concert.

When: 8:30 p.m. May 15.

Where: Wonder Ballroom, 128 N.E. Russell St., Portland.

Cost: $16 to $18 through TicketFly, 877-435-9849 or http://ticketfly.com

Information: 503-284-8686 or wonderballroom.com.

For the Black Angels one ongoing goal is change.

This is certainly true of the band's live show, where the psychedelic rock band is always looking for ways to enhance its visual presentation.

"As far as what we're doing visually, we want to evolve like the music evolves," singer/bassist Alex Maas said. "We always want to keep it fresh."

When Maas phoned in for an interview, he had been checking out some stage sets that were meant to add dimension to how the band would appear on stage.

"For what we're doing currently, we're going to be trying to figure out functionality of some panels, different panels that we can take out on tour with us and use those panels to create depth and different dimensions on stage," he said. "So that's kind of what I've been doing today."

In the longer term, the group has big ambitions for its live show.

"We want to start getting into some other kinds of design, whether it be like a 3-D mapping type thing or creating some kind of depth of field, maybe some false depth of field," Maas said. "I wish we had a $200,000 budget to do some crazy things, but we're not that kind of band."

Musically, the Black Angels made it a habit of taking different approaches to each of its first three albums -- "Passover" (2006), "Directions to See a Ghost" (2008) and "Phosphene Dream" (2010). The same was true of the group's newly released fourth CD, "Indigo Meadow," on several levels.

"What we did differently was we tried to push our songwriting," Maas said. "The first couple of records, the songs had less actual song structure to them, if you will, a chorus or verse/chorus, that kind of thing. But this one, we kind of had that in mind, but we still wanted to sound like the Black Angels."

The move toward working more within conventional song structures had started on "Phosphene Dream." For that album, the group worked with producer Dave Sardy, who challenged the group in ways that had not occurred before to tighten up its songwriting.

"It was great working with Dave because he really helped us find the song within the songs," Maas said. "It was almost like going to songwriting boot camp. And then those things stay with you forever, those ideas."

For "Indigo Meadow," the Black Angels changed things up by bringing on a new producer, John Congleton (whose many credits include the Roots, Modest Mouse, Okkervil River and Marilyn Manson). Like Sardy, Congleton was good at suggesting ways to strengthen and tighten up the band's songs.

Congleton also encouraged the band, which also includes Christian Bland (guitar/vocals), Kyle Hunt (keyboards) and Stephanie Bailey (drums), to experiment liberally with its mix of instruments and sonic effects.

"The music alchemy, the sonic alchemy, combining different sounds to make something entirely new, that was really intriguing," Maas said. "It felt really good to explore that."

For all the contrasts that figured into "Indigo Meadow," the album still sounds very much like the Black Angels, who as founders of the annual Austin Psych Fest in the band's hometown of Austin, Texas, are considered one of the leading groups on the current psychedelic rock scene.

True to the psychedelic rock form, the songs are frequently trippy and spacey, as the Black Angels created all manor of buzzed out, fuzzed out and just plain cool instrumental effects. But for all the emphasis on sonics, the songs "Indigo Meadows" work because they are anchored by solid melodies. This is especially true of "War On Holiday," "Don't Play With Guns" and "Love Me Forever," whose riffy choruses demand attention. "Evil Things" and "Always Maybe" make strong impressions with their dark melodies and fuzzed-out guitar lines. One of the album's most striking songs, "The Day," is built around a few repeating bass notes, a martial tempo and stabbing guitar notes.

Maas said the "Indigo Meadows" songs should work well live because the band cast an eye toward its live show as it recorded the new songs.

"We kind of always keep that in the back of our minds, how are we going to pull this off live? And how is it going to translate?" Maas said. "Some people like Radiohead don't care. They're just like 'I'm going to take this song you love, I might not even play it. But if I do, you might not even recognize the first five minutes of it.' It's completely reconstructed.

"We have that element in what we do, but I think we do try to get to how the song was created and try to make it better live, with keeping the same elements and how are we going to pull this off live (in mind)," he said.

"'We're always thinking about how can we better ourselves."