Throughout the last year, Levitation have taken some of the best psych-garage bands around and recorded live sessions in places that really bring out the best of the music, each specifically chosen to accentuate the qualities of each act. Last Saturday saw Black Angels’ frontman Alex Maas perform songs from his solo album, Luca, along with a few new ones thrown in to boot.
The late afternoon sun seeps through the windows of a closed record shop, crates of albums lining the bare-brick walls. Set in the middle, Alex Maas and his band play through some of the best tracks from his recent debut album, Luca. Immediately, there is a sense of intimacy, like we are privy to a private showcase. It’s in that feeling, stripped bare by the surroundings, filled with soft light and shadows, that the songs begin to take flight, naturality bereft of pretence allowing us a gateway into Mass’ private world, one where the family has taken centre stage.
Shines Like The Sun opens gently, a lone strum reverberates as Maas’ falsetto croons in, a subtle slide guitar marking small details. His words of a renewed love that comes from welcoming a child into your life come through with grace as the band one-by-one add to the song. Each part, simple and thought-out, adds to the mix as the session slowly wakes. “You are the world within my world” he sings, a song of devotion and adoration. That feeling continues throughout the set as he works the beauty of songs such as Special from his album. He switches from guitar to Mellotron for All Day which sneaks and slides into consciousness.
As night falls, we get the first new song, Elastic. While set firmly in the hypnotic flight of his solo style, a step back from his more aural-assault with much of The Black Angels’ work, it rides on a darker rhythm to ooze from the warmth of the shadows surrounding them. They follow it directly with another non-album track, Leather In The Foreground, Mass’ condensed and muffled vocal gliding over a wonderful shuffling beat, the music like a snake, charmed and drawn into a dance. From this, solo album two looks to be shaping up well.
As with all of the Levitation Sessions so far recorded, the way that they are presented is key to bringing out the songs, the visuals playing just as much a key part as the music. In this sense, each song is filmed in one single shot, the camera slowly working its way around the band in sync with the music. It’s a method that draws you close to them, enabling the lyrics to come through focused, no jarring cuts and takes to distract from the songs themselves.
After the beautiful 500 Dreams, we’re treated to another new song, Taishōgoto. Named after the Japanese instrument that Maas plays on the song, it naturally seeps with an Eastern rhythm, drummer Robb Kidd driving the beat expertly behind it. It’s perhaps the closest he gets to the Angels’ intensity as the angeled camera sweeps in and out of close-ups and showcases Maas’ freedom within his solo work to explore a variety of sounds and influences.
Intermission comes and we get an interview with Maas, expanding on his experience of making the album, Luca, and his collaboration with the musicians that really bring his songs to life.
From there, our setting changes and we find the band in a deserted music hall, the stage empty as the band set around the floor. Too Much Hate explores Maas’ desire for a new world, one of understanding over hate-fuelled reaction. “Don’t shoot from your hip” he pleads. Again, the gentleness of the surroundings pulls you into songs like Slip Into and the delicate waltz of Paint You.
He winds things up with two of the standout songs from Luca, American Conquest, brooding and dense, and the fantastic Been Struggling, which rises gracefully to a wonderful finale. The two sets really showcase Maas’ ability to draw you into the shadows, transfixed by the atmospherics that surrounds you.
As we still wait for the return of live shows, Levitation continues to pull out the stops on their great live sessions.
Read our full interview with Alex Maas here.
Words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.