On their second LP, these Austin-anchored psych-rockers amp up the voltage on the lysergic electricity fuelling their sunbaked motorcycle jams. Directions to See a Ghost keeps its feet firmly planted in the great American traditions of the chemical-fueled road trip and its closest confidant, the two-chord firestorm. The more straightforward, heavy blues-rock elements of the Black Angels’ previous releases have molted away, leaving a sonic soldier ready to enlist in the drone-psych army alongside the Velvet Underground, the 13th Floor Elevators, Red Krayola, Spacemen 3, and the Psychic Ills.
As an Austin native, I’ve often wondered what it is about the Texas climate that has induced not only the Black Angels but also everyone from the 13th Floor Elevators to Stars of the Lid to drench their clangy guitars in such hypnotic outer-space reverberations. Is it the heat? The shimmer of mirages on an asphalt horizon in August? The warm throttle of a motorcycle engine underneath an endless arid blue sky?
Whatever the reason, the tradition of Texas psychedelia is on full display on this record, whose greatest strength is that it plays out less like a collection of songs than one epic snakewinding track, very well sequenced, in which the steam generated by high-gear stompers gets a chance to dissipate in incense-laced bliss-outs. The gorgeous fury of amplified drone kicks in from opening menacer "You on the Run" and triumphantly doesn’t let up–it gets sped up, slowed down, inverted and transformed enough that although the tracks are at times difficult to discern from one another, the album never feels like it gets caught in a sonic backwater.
It’s actually such an effective interplay of difference and repetition that I’m even willing in this case to overlook the occasional sitar appearance. (Guys, we get it, you like psych rock and you kick serious butt at it.) More amusingly, however, and in case the record’s Roky Erickson injections are over your head, amid the swirling Sister Ray-organs of "Never/Ever" there’s a bit of wanton electric jug piping, just like in the Elevators.
In short, this is the creative peak of the Angels’ output to date. Its muscular confidence and stylistic purity make it a must-listen for the psychedelically inclined, as well as an easy candidate for one of the best records of the year.