Alex Maas of The Black Angels announces his mesmerizing and soul-bearing solo debut, Luca. Named for Maas’ firstborn, whose name means “bringer of light,” Luca was a long time coming, with some of its songs dating back almost a decade, put together piece-by-piece over the course of a couple years. A powerful work of gentle psychedelia, and a notable sonic departure from the heavy, pulse-raising sound that Maas has become renowned for, Luca was co-produced by Maas and Jack White’s front of house, Brett Orrison. The album showcases “a whole different part of my brain,” according to Maas. “I wanted to go someplace musically that I’ve never gone before.” What resulted is a hypnotic detour along the wild trails of Maas’ homestead of Texas, driven by nature and colored by a swirl of meditative thoughts about its creator’s son, the often-scary world he was born into, and how to navigate the perils of modern society.
Everything changed for Alex Maas in 2018. That was the year his first child was born—a happy and healthy baby boy—sending The Black Angels’ vocalist and multi-instrumentalist into a flurry of emotions he hadn’t felt before. There was the joy, of course, and the sheer awe that comes with creating new life. But to a lesser degree, there was also the fear: What world is his son going to grow up into, exactly? And how can Maas protect him from the dangers within it?
“The world is definitely messed up,” says Maas, a Texas native who’s lived in Austin for decades. “But there’s a lot of good in it too, and that’s why the whole world isn’t on fire—parts of it are. I do believe that there’s more good than evil.”
For more than 15 years, The Black Angels have served as one of rock’s preeminent purveyors of blissful walls of fuzz and intensity. They’ve also served as ringleaders of a larger psych-rock scene, particularly through their Levitation music festival, which inspires a pilgrimage of kindred spirits from around the world to the Austin area year after year. But Luca scratches a new itch for Maas.
That itch finds Maas putting aside his Jesus and Mary Chain LPs and instead, looking for inspiration in acts varying from The Everly Brothers to Portishead. Opener “Slip Into” delivers extraterrestrial themes over a funky beat and an eerie synth line, while “American Conquest” is a trance-inducing journey that focuses on issues much closer to home, like the horrific shootings ravaging the country in recent years. “The City” is a woozy campfire song reckoning with the larger cycle of human violence. Songs like “Special” and “500 Dreams” are lullabies for Luca inspired by thoughts about all of this and more.
The music quickly became even more than just the sum of its parts: “Once I started playing with other people,” Maas says, “I realized that these songs were much bigger than I had anticipated.” Recorded at Spaceflight Studios in Austin, Luca was co-produced with Maas by Jack White’s front of house engineer Brett Orrison, and features contributions from Widespread Panic drummer Duane Trucks, The Sword bassist Bryan Ritchie (on mellotron and bass), Jack White keys player Quincy McCrary (on strings and piano), vocalist Jazz Mills, Eels drummer Derek Brown, Golden Dawn Arkestra drummer Robb Kidd, and The Black Angels’ own Christian Bland and Jake Garcia. Former Black Angels member Nate Ryan also plays on the album.
Being released into a world that only seems to be getting scarier, Luca is a balm for the weary, partially because it doesn’t shy away from confronting tough subjects. But like Maas says, it’s not all bad. Not even close. And there will be a way forward, one way or another.
“We’re all navigating weird waters right now,” Maas says. “I’m trying to just go wherever the flow of the water is going.”