As anyone who has seen the fantastic documentary “Dig!”, Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre is a bit of a volatile character (read: batshit mental). His delusions of grandeur, his undoubtable talent, his alcohol and drug problems, his paranoia and piss-poor man-management skills have made him a legend of the music industry. A cool Alan McGee, perhaps. He was so enamoured by The Black Angel Lounge‘s sound that he offered to help produce the band’s debut album. Many lesser bands might not have taken that risk, but the young group from Hagen (Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany) went along for the ride and knocked out their second album, Narcotica, in two weeks.
The record certainly does have a rough, unpolished feel to it – we can only imagine what spending two weeks in a studio with Newcombe does to your mental health – which works nicely with the spacious and ambitious arrangements. The title track kicks off the album, and its slow-motion, dramatic chord shifts and lack of lead vocals set the mood for the 40-odd minutes of druggy, declamatory shoegaze that follow. The vocals, in the best Ride tradition, are distorted and mixed in just underneath the deadly precise bass lines, the sparse drumming and the glass-cutting guitars.
Newcombe seems to have had a fairly significant input into the recording – he appears on ‘Delete My Ideals’, on which he sings (barely audible) backing vocals, and his influence can also be heard in the use of tambourine and bongos throughout the record and the slightly krautrocky guitar riffs of ‘Bewitch My Senses’. It’s at the middle of Narcotica where things become a little tedious. ‘Son of the Ocean’ and ‘Corona’, respectively, break the 5-minute and 6-minute-mark but fail to create enough urgency beyond the ever-present, Nico-influenced histrionic posturing and the brooding soundscapes. The Black Angel Lounge are much more interesting when they, instead of aping the heroin-fuelled antics of their heroes, attempt to write a pop song. ‘Secure Existence’ is a good example – it doesn’t exactly leap out of the speakers and makes itself at home in your head for a week, but it steps off the doom pedal just enough to let the acoustic guitar create an atmosphere other than dread. It’s also worth noting that ‘I Will Never’ is a near rip-off of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ – it matches the latter’s gravitas, but just lacks sincerity and, for lack of a better word, ‘soul’.
As it is, this record is a very solid, atmospheric, well-produced and at times very intriguing effort by a young band who had the guts to work with one of the industry’s most infamous players.