Saying that Alex Maas has had a huge hand in the modern psych rock movement is by no means an overstatement. Besides fronting the Austin-based psych rock band The Black Angels and collaborating with artists like UNKLE and Mothman, he also cofounded the creative collective The Reverberation Appreciation Society. This collective is responsible for the Levitation Festival (nee Austin Psych Fest) which has been instrumental to bringing attention to psychedelic music from around the globe. Despite all of this, Maas has also found time to put together a collection of songs for his debut solo album called Luca, named after his firstborn son.
Within the first few seconds of the opening track, “Slip Into”, it is apparent that this album will be different than any other project that Maas has done in the past. It still contains the signature reverb on his vocals and whirling synthesizers; however, the tempo and dynamics are turned down significantly to create a much mellower and bright sound. The connection of album to his experience as a father can be found throughout, but especially on the tracks “500 Dreams” and “What Would I Tell Your Mother”. The former comes across almost as a lullaby as Maas sings ‘Sleep for your mother and me’ and ‘remember with you stop you always have a home’. The lead single “Been Struggling” is a defiant and hopeful anthem of standing up against societal expectations as Maas sings of an unnamed ‘she’ who thinks he should be like ‘all the rest o’ them boys’. “American Conquest,” with its steadily strummed electric guitar and muted percussion, sounds like it is poised to explode into a louder, more raucous song throughout and manages to create a sense of unease. All of this uneasiness through the song is appropriate as the lyrics are about mass shootings.
It is always a gamble when the frontman for a band does a solo album. Is he going to sound just like their band with other musicians or will it be so different that it doesn’t appeal to the fan base? With Luca, Maas has managed to stay in that happy medium where it’s different without being too different. There is enough of what fans of The Black Angels want to still be familiar but different enough to be something completely his own. Maas’ first foray into solo territory is definitely a success and his son Luca can be proud to share his name with the album.
Photo credit: Barbara FG