There is a restless and anxious tenderness that sits at the center of Luca, the debut album from Alex Maas of The Black Angels. The album borrows its name from Maas’ firstborn child, born in 2018, and is one of the catalysts for the album’s inception. But many of the songs on Luca go back almost a decade, reaching backward in Maas’ life even — as the arrival of his child forces him to look forward at a future that is uncertain.
The songs on Luca are tempered with this listless psychedelia, with Maas dropping the larger sonics of The Black Angels for a sonorous folk approach, and each finds itself either as a soft prayer or a deep meditation. Album opener “Slip Into” is a foggy fever-dream of ghostly echoes, with Maas loosening himself up on a track that establishes the rest of Luca‘s gentle melancholy and introspection.
Throughout Luca, Maas wrestles with the hope and insurmountable love his child has given and a fear of what the world might do to them. On “The Light That Will End Us,” Maas conjures up images of the end of the world via flashes of light; a scene of tragedy that is juxtaposed by “Special,” a strummed ballad that glows with the profound wonder that Maas feels when he looks at his child. And it’s a hope constantly rekindled throughout on songs like “500 Dreams,” which sees Maas speaking directly to his sleeping child, trying to offer in earnest and with dwindling time what advice he can offer; “sleep for your momma and me, dream for your momma and me,” he murmurs in their ear. “What Would I Tell Your Mother” and “All Day” lose themselves wonderfully in the depths of their morose soundscapes.
The album ends somewhat ominously with “American Conquest,” a distorted ballad about the senseless hatred that parents nurture into their children, which allows a terrible cycle of violence (specifically gun violence and mass shootings, of which the victims are so often children) to unfold unchecked. But Luca ends with a bit of a lullaby too, with “The City” telling the story of an allegorical walled-off city whose watchers have all fallen asleep just as an army has begun advancing; “Now that’s a city that’s ripe for the taking,” Maas repeats in this droning sadness, his heart weeping as he hums along to its soft strums.
And there seems to be a double-edged word of warning of the ways in which complacency can sow the seeds of discontent and how a sea-change can come out of the horror. One that transcends the events of today (even as Maas draws from them) and elevates the album into a powerful examination of the intensely intimate struggle a parent faces to reconcile the tragedy and evil of the world they live in with the love and hope their child has borne with them.