Few art bands can claim to exert as much influence as the Velvet Underground, and perhaps the most romanced branch of their deep bloodline is the distortion-polluted tributary that the Jesus and Mary Chain dredged so definitively. Unlike the flower generation’s kaleidoscope, this dark, noxious sound snaked from psychedelia’s underbelly, dangling between a fever dream and a freakout. Seducing through noise, feedback and drone, they forever changed sonic convention.
With a gathering wave of talented practitioners like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Raveonettes (whose 2005 album Pretty in Black featured cameos by Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker), the church built around this axis is enjoying its most significant groundswell. The inspiration has even seized unexpected acts like experimental post-rockers Liars and orchestral popsters the Magnetic Fields, both of whom recently released albums that channel JAMC’s Psychocandy in no uncertain terms (Liars and Distortion, respectively). Still more literal references to either the Velvets or the Mary Chain have entered the musical lexicon; the Brian Jonestown Massacre tipped a hat to both (along with My Bloody Valentine) in the title of their newest album, My Bloody Underground.
There is no more permanent means of swearing allegiance, however, than adopting an appellation that manacles a band to a certain influence, proving that none are as devoted to the mythos as the Black Angels and the Warlocks. In addition to denoting the active L.A. neo-psych band, the name Warlocks was also the moniker for a previous incarnation of the Velvet Underground, while Austin’s Black Angels are named after the Velvets’ landmark “Black Angel’s Death Song.”
Currently this microcosm’s hottest commodity, the Black Angels are a testament to the enduring vitality of the legacy. The inky pall of their music – so unabashedly Velveteen – burned so hot upon arrival that it tore through the indie music world, leaving a smoldering trail of hype in its path.
“The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Velvet Underground were both about sensory-overloaded, pounding rock & roll with catchy melodies and real-life lyrics,” says frontman Christian Bland. “That’s exactly what the Black Angels are into as well.”
“Those two bands are the stepping stone of inspiration in my youth,” says Warlocks frontman Bobby Hecksher, whose notable work has traversed the distance between the two touchstones. A late bloomer to JAMC fandom, he was struck by their lightning at a 1998 performance just before they disbanded.
“They waltzed in drunk with a boom box, hit play, plugged in a guitar and went at it,” says Hecksher. “It was so careless and brilliant at the same time. I went and bought every album after that day and have been a big fan since.” About the Velvet Underground, Hecksher says, “Probably my favorite band of all time. Love, love, love them. Love the dissonant sounds they made and immediately felt drawn in and inspired.”
Despite virtually no chart success, the Velvet Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain stirred a rich wake of eminent acts, thereby etching their names deeper into the rock canon. They may’ve missed the superstar payday, but historical bragging rights are priceless.[email protected]
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