6.10.2011

Album Review: Black Lips - Arabia Mountain


Genre: Garage Rock/Punk
Origin: Atlanta, GA

The cover of Black Lips latest release, Arabia Mountain, has the band posed in obnoxious outfits amidst floating, vivid, almost drug-induced clouds and half-naked women wearing masks. This is and always has been the attitude of Black Lips, a band that doesn't take things too seriously. From the lo-fi and raw productions to the "Let's have a drink and sing a song" vibe, they've seemed to capture an essential "spirit" found within the comfort of just rocking the fuck out in their own undivided space. Nothing entirely odd about that, right?

Yet on this cover, the band looks out into the distance, as if fixated on an object or a person. Perhaps the thing in question is Mark Ronson, the hot-shot producer looking to give Black Lips a discovery of clean production while still maintaining their eclectic attitudes. You would think this move toward a more "pop" production status would be commercial suicide, but thankfully, with the brighter sound, better atmosphere and more intelligible lyrics, it may be the smartest move the band has made yet.

Arabia Mountain is set out to give you a break and have a drink, bringing along your friends for good measure. There is a lot more coming out of Black Lips' amps than you'd originally think from their past albums like 200 Million Thousand or even Good Bad Not Evil, especially now that you can hear close to everything from the flowery guitar and drums to the saxophone and theremin (courtesy of one Sean Lennon). Nothing is inherently lost by going through this bigger method of maintaining quality if they can still bring the fun, punk personality. Black Lips greatly succeed in that regard.

There are just a lot of great hooks on these tracks. "Modern Art," "Mad Dog," "Bone Marrow," "Mr Driver," to name a few. They provide a kind of "Summer Mixtape" for those looking to spend their days by the pool and have their friends attend. Even "Spidey's Curse," perhaps the most "pop" song on the album, features some really chill vibes even when talking about Peter Parker and Spider-Man. "Dumpster Dive" is also equally lyrical, in that it really talks about what the title implies - living in a dumpster.

Most of the songs on here are pretty good, though there are a few that range somewhere from good to merely decent. Songs like "Raw Meat" and "New Direction," as fine as they are sonically, just sound familiar. They come off as some kind of song you'd hear off a greatest hits compilation of The Ramones or The Clash. The influence is understandable (if that was even their aim), but they don't make the songs fit in their own realm.

Although about 90% of the songs do not run longer than three minutes, Arabia Mountain still feels long at sixteen tracks. There are fantastic tracks toward the end of the album, including the aforementioned "New Direction" and the explosion of joy in "Noc-A-Homa," but the sound does somewhat lose steam. That isn't to say that any of these songs are "filler" because all of the songs on here are fine additions to the album, but it almost makes you wish an EP or new album was cut from it.

Either way, Arabia Mountain's pros greatly outweigh the cons. It's by far not an album a Black Lips fan should doubt in any case. Black Lips keep what they've always had and store it at the core, but now it sounds like this is what they've been trying to achieve since their start. Garage rock or not, cleaner production and personal freedom in partial thanks to Mark Ronson, Arabia Mountain is admirably celebratory.

4/5

Black Lips - "Modern Art"


Black Lips - "Mad Dog"


Arabia Mountain is now available from Vice Records.

-DJ

6.08.2011

Indie Premiere: The Sound of Sunsets

Genre: Indie Folk/Acoustic

Watching the sunset is a bittersweet experience. One can feel many different feelings rushing through them as they stare at the massive star that brings life to our little, isolated corner of the universe. As it slowly and gracefully dips below the horizon we, as humans, are presented with a very direct challenge to our understanding of our daily lives. In simplest terms, watching the sunset is an existential experience that, under certain circumstances, can verge on spiritual. Though this may not be the intent of The Sound of Sunsets, it is certainly what I take away from their eponymous debut album.

The Sound of Sunsets is the work of San Francisco Bay Area musician Zack Hunter. The first thing that gleams off of this album is the quality of the production. Recorded, mixed and mastered over the course of 3 months in Hunter's bedroom during a busy final semester at college, the smoothness of these tracks is pretty impressive. From a casual listen, the album could be derided as a collection of similar, easy-listening songs; but that would be giving very little credit to what is a valiant first effort by a young indie musician making his introductory wave in the indie scene. Rather, the album carries a consistent theme of searching for hope and meaning in a dark reality, much like the existential crisis brought upon by staring up at the starry sky at night, or by watching the sunset for that matter. Just as these crises tend to carry a certain spiritual weight to them, so too does The Sound of Sunsets. One of Hunter's writing inspirations is his Christian faith and it is clear on some level in many of the songs on the album. It is important to note that this is by no means Christian worship music; the songwriter's faith is simply an important aspect to his emotional experience and so it is reflected in his lyrics.

SoS sounds like an indie collaboration between The Fray and Iron and Wine, with some songs resembling one more than the other. Two tracks that really stand out on the album and also demonstrate the sound that Hunter has crafted are "Stumble" and "Around Me." The former sounds like it could have been taken off of The Fray's How to Save a Life. It leads with haunting and innocent guitar picking and finishes with the notes of a gentle piano. "Around Me" falls on the Iron and Wine side of the SoS spectrum. Hunter's vocals are soft and almost whispered as he taps into a feeling of restlessness: "Is this the same, or is it different? Why can't I live a life consistent?" These two tracks act as the cornerstones of the album in that they establish the two sounds that SoS seeks to coalesce, though they are also distinct sounds unto themselves, both vocally and instrumentally. This combination works very well for the kind of vibe that SoS works to create.

The Sound of Sunsets is nothing revolutionary but it is a great piece of work from a new artist entering the scene with an interesting musical voice. The tone that this first album has set for Hunter and his future work is a promising one. As one listens to the album, great potential seems to have a pulse just beneath the surface. SoS' sophomore effort is definitely something to look forward to if this early work is any indication.

Crashing Symbols reviews are regularly accompanied by a number rating out of 5. However, given that this is the debut work of a local indie band, I have chosen to abstain from this black and white standard in favor of letting the review speak for itself, along with the sample tracks below.

The Sound of Sunsets - "Stumble"


The Sound of Sunsets - "Around Me"

The debut album from The Sound of Sunsets is available for purchase now in the iTunes Store.

-JB