Reverberations: Phenomenauts and Black Angels

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It’s once again time for a Reverberation at Boondocks, so be there this Saturday, and be careful on the stairs.

And if you’re the sort who likes to start early (and what really constitutes “early” on a Saturday?), you won’t do much better than showing up at Cactus from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., when two-thirds of KTRU’s Mutant Hardcore crew will set-up for a rare live set. Just remember that you’re in a record store, and there’s an entire staff waiting to laugh at your lame request. Make it count.

If you’re out and about Thursday, you can catch these guys at Walter’s on Washington with a full bill that includes Houston’s own Something Fierce:

Phenomenauts, For All Mankind (Silver Sprocket/Springman)

“All of us, we should have a mission, we should have a purpose, it’s in our bones,” from “Man Alone,” is evidence of Phenomenauts at their worst: hopelessly cheesy, hindered by ham-fisted lyrics and a stilted delivery. It’s just bad.

Then, that same band comes at you with a couple of songs like “Cyborg” and “Make a Circuit With Me,” and you actually have to sit and listen to the rest of record. “Cyborg” tells the story of a man who tries to build a woman who’ll be well-mannered, good looking and (naturally) impressed with her creator. He fails: “And when I turned her on, she wasn’t turned on by me. I guess cyborgs just see who they wanna see.” “Make A Circuit With Me” plays along the same lines, lending a real emotional weight without getting remotely artsy.

These two tracks exemplify the strengths of the Phenomenauts: they’ll find a fast audience with anyone who can bob his or her head to psychobilly songs about the light-hearted side of necrophilia, or at least those who can stop taking themselves seriously long enough to contemplate an Oakland band who claims to be from the future via a 1981 bout with Galaga.

The musical goods are there: “Navitron” and “Heroes” are towering garage-punk, “She’ll Launch” is pulsing classic rock boogie, while “The Tale of Europa,” “Infinite Frontier” and “Into a Time Warp” grow out of the best West Coast pop-punk. Huge debts are owed the vocals of the Damned, the guitars of the Rezillos and Nekromantix (and probably Koffin Kats, for that matter), but the saving grace of Phenomenauts is the kinetic energy and dedication to fun practiced by this never-gonna-be-huge but so-glad-you-saw-them-live band (label-mates Groovie Ghoulies spring to mind).

Is it a gimmick? Hell yes. Is it trying to be anything else? Except in a few moments of weakness, no. If an energetic band of weirdos from Cali is the worst thing that happens to music all year, we’re doing pretty good.

Black Angels, Directions to See A Ghost (Light in the Attic)

The Black Angels’ psychedelia is juicy, starting with one or two simple rhythm conveyances and rolling downhill, picking up layers and adding a seemingly infinite texture. It’s a rare music that is calculated without boring the listener, due mostly to an overwhelming sense of dynamics and taste (for evidence, listen to the masterful “Mission District”), equal parts refreshing breath and holographic nightmare.

“You on the Run” ripples and stretches with muscularity, while “Dove” has sweet guitar melodies, dissonant vocals and plenty of phased rhythm guitar work interspersed with growling, sexy slide roars. The Angels run the gamut from this sort of thing to simple pop songs (“18 Years”), endless climaxes (“Deer-Ree-Shee”), droning bursts of light (“Never/Ever” and its utterly gorgeous swaths of feedback), triumphant rockers (“You In Color”) and whatever territory lies within reach.

In typical Black Angels style, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single here. On this album – somewhat frightening that this is the sophomore release, considering the steady hand and light touch – the Angels solidify themselves as an outfit who choose to spend their time creating cohesive documents.

Upon sitting through Directions to See A Ghost, it’s difficult to remember any space between tracks, let alone any specific songs. Which is not at all to say that the whole thing is derivative of itself: the matter is that you’re listening to a wholly formed sound with a clearly defined identity. The Black Angels know who they are, even if you aren’t quite sure (or can’t quite grasp it), and should Directions to See A Ghost fail to reside near the top of every year-end list, all hope for humanity may truly be lost. – Chris Henderson

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