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Alex Maas - Luca (Album Review)

Tuesday, 08 December 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

This year has been a good one for new ventures from seasoned musicians. Among so many lowlights, 2020 has been home to fine debut solo albums from the likes of Andy Bell and Matt Berninger, while Alex Maas’s ‘Luka’ is another welcome aside from today’s continuing troubles. But, while his peers occasionally nodded to earlier work with their famous bands, ‘Luca’ does little to remind us of the Black Angels.

Maas’s acoustic ideas have been fleshed out by a lengthy list of contributors here and, like Berninger’s ‘Serpentine Prison’, it’s hard to call this a full on solo effort. Maas himself admits that it feels like a “collaborative piece”. Becoming a father also shaped the album, as did growing up in Texas surrounded by nature. 

This sparse, natural vibe carries the album from start to finish as the fuzz and layers associated with Maas’s music are stripped away, revealing a sensitive and barren heart that rings out from a minor key core.

Opener Slip Into delivers a taste of what to expect, straying from the traditional Black Angels drone as echoey vocals ring out in a hollow pot of dreary miserabilism. The less than cheerily titled The Light That Will End Us then hits the same note as a reedy synth line snakes in and out.

“I’m trying to find balance in the insane world we live in,” Maas claims, as though he’s pre-empting questions as to why this Austin-produced effort revels in melancholic minimalism, peeking out from under a rock at a society gone mad.

But it’s when the feeling of being at one with nature shines through that we really connect with ‘Luca’, as on What Would I Tell Your Mother. Mellotron chords provide a layer of beauty as the track somehow conjures up a stunning sunset vision on an otherwise bland day. 500 Dreams also provides a pang of acknowledgement for every new, dreary-eyed parent as it begs, “sleep for your mama and me”.

While ‘Luca’ avoids the 1967 psychedelia that defines much of the Black Angels’ inspiration (Been Struggling aside) the delicate sense of fragility here is overwhelming. It’s not without its moments, but ‘Luca’ does leave us yearning for Maas to re-ignite the Black Angels’ fire.

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